How smartphones drive online betting trends in Kenya

Last year was not a particularly good year for Kenya’s betting industry operators and their customers, a majority of who use their mobile phones to place their bets. It’s the year when industry regulator Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) dismantled the industry after the government accused operators of paying too little tax.

And the crackdown on the industry soon exposed the role of mobile phones, mainly smartphones, to those placing bets. And they use the respective firms’ mobile apps to place their bets as almost all the betting platforms have apps, be it Betway Mobile App or any of the over 20 major betting companies operating in the country.

When BCLB ordered Kenya’s telecom operators to freeze mobile shortcodes and paybill numbers that Kenyans use to load cash into their betting accounts and withdraw winnings from their mobile phones, many betting fans cried foul. Reports have it that the order impacted at least 27 betting companies, including Betway, leading up to 12 million customers to withdraw their cash from their betting accounts or lose it.

The impact of smartphones on the country’s overall betting trends can also be gleaned from the results of a GeoPoll and Ipsos research carried out last year.

The research, carried out in mid last to gauge the reaction to the crackdown on the gambling industry by the government and the suspension of several gambling firms’ licenses, found that there are stark differences in gambling prevalence and habits among smartphone owners and non-smartphone (or feature phone) users.

According to the GeoPoll research, conducted via SMS with a sample size of 600 just before the government’s July 1 regulations took effect, found that only 40% of those who own feature phones place bets (or engage in gambling), compared to 64% of smartphone owners. Again, females who own feature phones are the least likely to gambled, with only 27% of this group placing bets or gambling.

On the use of mobile apps, the GeoPoll research found that among those who have gambled, mobile apps are by far the most popular medium for doing so; with 88% of gamblers having used their mobile device to place bets. Among this group, 55% place bets on their phone once a week or more. This makes mobile phone-based betting both the most popular and the most frequently used method of gambling, indicating how the ease of access to mobile phone gambling has significantly transformed the betting industry.

With many now using their mobile devices to access betting sites and platforms, the question then arises of what would become of traditional casinos.

Here again, industry trends and betting practices do not paint a very rosy picture looking at the future as the GeoPoll research notes that traditional and conventional casinos are less popular among gamblers, with only 36% of gamblers reported that they place bets from within casino premises, while a third of those who go to casinos state that they do so once a month or less.

Cyber cafes and betting shops (where people purchase pre-marked betting slips) are also losing their popularity and are less frequently used for betting than mobile phones, with only 28% and 33% of the gambling population respectively noting that they place bets through these shops.

But what are people and betting fans placing a wager on mostly?

In Kenya, football is the most popular when it comes to what people are staking their cash on, with 83% of respondents stating that they bet on football most often, followed by lotteries with 11%. Lotteries are also most popular with the older demographic, with 22% of respondents saying lotteries are their preferred type of gambling, while females are also more likely to bet through lotteries than males.


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