Poor Kenyans Bet Their Shirts Off To Sponsor An English Premier League Club

Poor Kenyans Bet Their Shirts Off To Sponsor An English Premier League Club

For less than $0.50, a motorcycle rider – popularly known as a boda boda in East Africa — can make more than $500 in one weekend on the increasing number of sports betting platforms that have propped up across the region.

That is three times more than what an average boda boda rider would make in a month from several sweaty rides in Kenya’s lake side city of Kisumu.

But, like every other gamble, not everybody is lucky. And that is how sports betting startups like SportPesa, a three year old company, are raking in millions of dollar every month from poor young men who are quickly getting addicted to the game.

On Monday, the Kenyan online gaming company joined a few sub-Saharan Africa firms that have ever sponsored an English soccer team. The company sealed a  multi-million dollar deal with Hull City Club that will have the company’s name printed on the front of the team’s shirt for the next three seasons.

SportPesa, a company that claims to be Africa’s number one sports betting platform and already sponsors Kenya Premier League, plans to have a betting presence in four continents in about a year, its Chief Executive Officer Ronald Karauri said in a statement on Hull’s website on Monday.

“The deal is by far the largest in our history and a sign of our ambition to grow our Club and become a household name in our sport globally,” Simon King, Commercial Manager at Hull City Tigers, said without disclosing how much the sponsorship was worth.

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Other English teams to have had sub-Saharan African sponsors include Sunderland, which had the branding of Johannesburg-based Bidvest Group Ltd. on shirts from 2013 to 2015, and Tottenham Hotspur, which formerly had lender Investec’s logo on shirts in certain tournaments, Bloomberg reported.

SportPesa’s deal with Hull City is a milestone for the growing number of sports betting companies in Africa, where most of the gamblers are low income earners who are literally betting shirts off their back.

For several young men across the continent, placing bets on sites like SportPesa is now an addiction they cannot dispense off. They place their bets every week at the comfort of their homes using mobile phones.

Piggybacking on Mobile Money

Betting companies in Kenya, including BetIn, Betway and Mcheza, have partnered with regional telcos to link their product with mobile money services such as Airtel Money, Orange Money and M-Pesa, making it gambling accessible to anyone with a phone.

This ease of access to betting site has had some devastating effects in some cases.

Cases of university students, farmers and boda boda riders committing suicide after losing huge amounts of money on betting sites has increased in recent years. This has made some churches and parents call for stiffer regulations on betting business to limit access by a growing number of gamblers.

Over the last few years, sports betting has grown steadily in many parts of Africa, with passionate sports fans, mainly in European leagues, getting involved via companies that decide the odds on various sports games and competitions.

The continent is quickly emerging as one of the most promising and lucrative sports betting playgrounds for gambling firms due to its favorable lax laws on betting.

Certain African countries including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, have experienced massive outbreaks of online betting companies, a 2014 report on gambling in Africa by Price Water Coopers showed.

The report said that with a four-year average growth rate of 6.9 percent, gambling in these three countries will be worth around $37 billion by the year 2018, with the sports betting segment growing at 21.3 per cent in South Africa alone, according to a 2013 figure in the report.

In South Africa, government statistics show that more than half of the adult population is involved in gambling activities on a regular basis, including with lottery and sports betting sites like SportsBet, Ladbrokes, Bet.co.za and Betxchange.co.za actively expanding their client base in the country.