From a virtually unknown industry five years ago, sports betting has become a gold mine in Kenya with 36 firms registered so far, four of them in the last seven months.
Every other billboard a person comes across is likely to be selling a betting firm, with names like OdiBets, betPawa and SportyBet seeking a place in a space dominated by big spenders like SportPesa and Betin, among others.
The Betting Control and Licencing Board (BCLB) says some of the firms it has registered this year include Betran, Socialcom, Yesbet and Nzworld.
Yesbet is domiciled in the United Kingdom while Nzworld’s majority shareholder is Indian start-up Nazara Technologies — a testament of how overseas firms are fighting for a piece of the action in the industry that raked in Sh20 billion in revenues in the 2016/17 financial year.
Mr Anthony Kimani, the BCLB chairman, told the Sunday Nation that the number of registered firms could be higher than 36, had it not been for a policy to strike out firms that were signing up for speculation purposes.
“We came up with this new policy that when someone holds a licence for two years without using it, then it is clear that they were not able for whatever reason or did not have the capability,” he said.
Economists say the thriving betting industry is an indicator of many realities in Kenya’s economic set-up.
Mr Kwame Owino, the chief executive of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the gold rush may be an indicator of Kenyans’ optimism.
“There is no greater sign that people value economic prosperity than the fact that they dedicate a share of their income to an activity that could earn them money, even if the odds are bad,” he wrote in a recent article.
Dr Scholastica Odhiambo from Maseno University, told advocacy blog Equal Times last year that the growth is paired with the advancement of mobile money, which makes it possible for instant deposits and withdrawals.
To gain a competitive edge, betting firms have been fighting on different battlefronts.
Key areas include the lowest amount a person can wage to predict an outcome, the variety of games to bet on and the amount of jackpot money to be awarded.
“SportPesa is the dominant player mainly because of quick payout, high odds and easy navigation in their sites,” Nairobi resident Linus Ombette told the Sunday Nation.
“Betin is also rated highly because it focuses on many markets, which means many betting options,” added Mr Ombette, who has been into sports betting for the last two years.
Mr Kimani said the competition being witnessed among betting firms is just like it would happen in any market.
“Like all others business, it’s governed by demand and supply and more so the ever-changing technology, consumer demographics, tastes, needs, dictates and demands,” he said.
The competition is also on the copyright registration front, where October was the busiest month of the year as five firms — Bet Lion, betPawa, LigiBet, Jaza Bet and OdiBets — were featured in the Kenya Industrial Property Institute journal for having applied to copyright their names.
Mr Kimani said BCLB will is planning to enforce electronic monitoring to ensure accurate reporting of taxes, to geo-fence the Kenyan space, to preventing money laundering and to stem betting by minors.