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Sports betting comes to Kenya

Gamers pay close attention during a match at the Gaming International at the former Odeon Cinema. File
Gamers pay close attention during a match at the Gaming International at the former Odeon Cinema. File 

Edward Njoroge is about six feet two inches tall and a lucky man if his largest win at Gaming International, at the former Odeon Cinema building on Tom Mboya street last week, is anything to go by.

Having placed a mere bet of Sh100 on a series of eight games, the odds were much against him. The ticket he had bought became more and more precious and beads of sweat started forming on his forehead with each correct prediction.

The gods were on his side. When the final whistle of the last game on his ticket series blew, the elated winner was beside himself with joy. His Sh100 had just paid him back Sh35,000.

Njoroge had placed his bet on a series of English Premier League football games. Sports betting has been practiced in Kenya for decades with horse race betting being one of the oldest and most well-known.

Betting at the racecourse has been practised since the 1950s, though it was a stand-alone product unlike now where it is tied to the Jockey Club.

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In recent years, betting on international games such as golf, tennis, and other sports has become available for the market through companies like Gaming International among others.

Lilian Nyagaki, the marketing manager at Gaming International says their highest pay out in relation to the size of the bet placed was Sh200,890 to a gentleman who had betted Sh500 but she has also seen some losers in her time, the highest being Sh100,000.

The odds for the bets in most sports are calculated on a home, draw and away basis. The odds are usually generated by a computer managed by the gaming departments of the different houses.

"The machine used to carry out these calculations is what is referred to as the Totalisator and it makes these calculations with every ticket issued, updating the betting odds in real time," says John Mutua, head of betting at the Jockey Club of Kenya.

The machines must be vetted and licensed by the Betting Control and Licensing Board.

In the English Premier League game played last Saturday January 26, between Manchester United and Fulham at Old Trafford (home ground for ManU) the odds were 1.28 for a home win and 10 for away and 3.44 for a draw.

So if you placed a bet for Sh100 on Fulham disappointing ManU, then on Monday you would have collected Sh1000 had they won. They lost 4 -1.

The higher the stake, the higher the win, with a single bet placed on a series games increasing one’s chances of getting a higher multiplier ratio on their bet.

With a maximum payout of Sh1million and a minimum bet of Sh100, the floor is open to the low earner and VIP spenders (those who want to place bets of Sh100,000).

However, the minimum bet and maximum pay-out vary depending on the purse holder. At the Jockey Club, the minimum bet on a horse is Sh40 with pay-outs going as high as millions - for they do not have a maximum cap - if a horse that is not a favourite happens to win.

“Horse racing payouts are also calculated on a pari-mutuel basis. This simply means that the racetrack does not care who wins a given race. The odds on each horse to win is determined by what proportion of the total money is betted on that particular horse,” explains Mutua.

Even with the ability to gauge a team’s performance from its history, the losses can also be just as large.

Unlike with casinos where they provide the winning amounts which means that one bets against the house, gaming houses act as custodians of the money betted. Using the machines, they then calculate the pay-out to the winners keeping a percentage of the money for themselves.

Sports betting has been in existence for decades worldwide but is mainly practiced on a small scale in Kenya or by mobile bookmakers that would occasionally frequent stadiums and racecourses.

While others practice it in an informal set up in pubs, dingy alleys and other unauthorised and unlicensed avenues.

In 2011, Gaming International came into the country with the aim of expanding the scope of sports betting and joining the industry players in popularising it. They have opened their second branch in Westlands and plans of venturing into the counties are underway.

Unlike a few years back, this kind of betting is becoming increasingly popular to the extent that even horse race betting has been on the rise. To create more opportunities for the punters - the person who bets on a horse - betting on a daily basis is now available.

“We have betting from different parts of the world including South Africa, UK, Singapore, Mauritius, Dubai and Zimbabwe,” says Mutua. The different racecourses around the world provide continuous activity for the punters.

In 2005, the Jockey Club of Kenya partnered with Phumelela Gaming and Leisure Company, based in South Africa, to share their betting pools.

“This then means that Phumelela Gaming hosts the betting pools that cover betting from all over South Africa and the Kenyan punter is then allowed to bet into these same pools. This has the effect of guaranteeing very huge winning pools for any punter who places their bets at the Ngong Racecourse,” explains Mutua.

The gaming houses are on an expansion plan with Gaming International recently opening an additional branch in the upmarket Westlands area.

“The Jockey Club has opened betting shops at the Karen Shopping Centre and Formation House in the CBD to cater for the rising demand,” says Mutua.

Football, Formula1 racing, Moto GP, tennis, basketball and horse racing are just some of the sports that are open to betting.

Though most gaming houses shy away from local football matches “we like to avoid the risk of match fixing and since we cannot control that, we only offer opportunity to bet on international matches,” explains Nyagaki.

Not quite a game of chance, sports betting relies more on skill than luck. “You have to look at different performance aspects of the team you are betting on as well as its history,” says Njoroge.

The same applies when betting for an individual player for games like tennis or a race horse, a car, or even a motorcycle. Commonly confused with lotteries and pyramid schemes, many are sceptical to give it a try.

In neighbouring Uganda, betting is practised on a large scale on an even wider selection of sports much more popular and an even wider variety of games available to bet on.

According to Nyagaki, sports betting is just catching on in Kenya and still a long way from matching the standard in Uganda.

While there is a whole set of rules that guide the taking of bets from the public, it is imperative to note that the most basic rule is that one must be over 18 years old to take part in betting.

HOW IT WORKS

1. Placing a single bet on multiple games increases the multiplier effect. This means that you win more money.

2. To hedge from risk, some of the more sceptical betters place two bets on a single game.

3. Payment is done through a system which validates the ticket. Without the initial ticket issued when placing a bet, one cannot claim the wins.

4. One of the largest wins in the last year at the Jockey Club Sh600,000 paid to a single punter from a single bet. Cumulatively, in the last year alone, they have paid out over Sh42 million. 

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