Bookmakers bet on Kenya: Driven by the ability of firms to capitalise on technological uptake and high betting rates among the country's youth, Kenya's gambling market is expanding rapidly.

Author:Collins, Tom
Position::GAMBLING - Cover story

Within the last few years, the busy streets of downtown Nairobi have increasingly played host to a new genre of adverts. Once characterised by consumer goods or telecom companies, the marketing space is now giving way to highly profitable and rapidly expanding betting firms. From April to June this year, four bookmakers were among the top 10 companies by advertising spend, alongside household names like Safaricom and East African Breweries. Tatua 3, a lottery company, spent just over $17,501 on promoting its games.

And it's not just in Kenya. SportPesa, the most visible Kenyan firm, has gone global by sponsoring English Premier League football clubs alongside an existing partnership with the domestic Kenyan Premier League. Such exposure illustrates the company's rise from obscurity just four years ago and reaffirms the Kenyan betting market as one of the most dynamic in Africa.

The perfect storm

The market's growth is best explained by the ability of firms to capitalise on favourable technological uptake and youthful demographics. While companies spend large amounts on visibility, Kenya's markets were already well prepared for a gambling boom.

Indeed, the Kenyan-led mobile money revolution has brought with it more than just innovative fintechs and expedient startups. Betting firms have been quick to seize upon the country's 87% mobile penetration rate, using hand-held devices as a virtual shop front to promote gambling and facilitate payments.

"Based on our studies around 96% of Kenyans will bet on their mobile phones," says Joy Masimane, analyst at market research firm GeoPoll. "Mobile-related banking services like M-Pesa have made it convenient to bet using a phone."

Thrown into this mix is a country-wide love of sport, particularly football, and a slowly-rising middle class. According to GeoPoll's research the greatest proportion of betting Kenyans are the millennial middle to upper classes. The country has the highest percentage of betting youths in the six sub-Saharan countries surveyed by GeoPoll, with 76% of Kenyans aged between 25 and 34 having placed a bet at least once. A modest estimate puts prospective gamblers in the country at 2m, with the figure rising daily.

Corporate expansion

On the back of these fundamentals, corporate expansion has been swift. At the beginning of the decade Kenya was home to only a handful of betting outfits, most of which ran traditional lotteries. Today, East Africa's second-largest economy counts 32...

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