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Charity Sweepstake loses out to SMS

Saturday November 20 2010

By MUCHIRI KARANJA [email protected]

It is said that charity begins at home. But for Kenya’s oldest public lottery – the Kenya Charity Sweepstake established in 1965 – charity might end with the mobile phone.

The lottery is feeling the pinch as thousands of its former customers take up the more alluring mobile phone-based lotteries. For over four decades now, the Sweepstake has dominated the lottery scene.

The lottery has an estimated 600 agents across the country, and thousands of Kenyans trooped to its yellow kiosks to buy scratch cards that promised millions in cash prizes.

And with its success, the company says it has been able to donate Sh600 million over the last 10 years to various worthy causes.

Then came the mobile phones that dramatically changed cash prize competitions. While the maximum prize offered by the Sweepstake is about Sh2.5 million, the SMS-based competitions are offering up to Sh50 million.

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According to the Betting Control and Licensing Board, the Kenya Charity Sweepstake and mobile phone-based competitions that ask you to send a text to a given number are similar and thus governed by the same law.

“The only difference is one uses manual tickets; the other uses mobile phone texts,” said BCLB’s public relations officer Githinji Thuo.

According to BCLB, there are at least 10 mobile phone-based lotteries. KCS marketing manager Peter Njoroge admits the new players are eroding their profits.

“Obviously the rise of mobile phone gaming has affected us. Some people will find it easier to send a text than to walk to our kiosks,” he said.

Indeed, weekly collections have dropped by up to 40 per cent. Before the entry of mobile phone-based competitions, KCS would collect an average of Sh5 million weekly, but this has dropped to Sh3 million.

And the agents running the trademark yellow kiosks are beginning to feel the heat as sales plummet. “There was a time when I could survive on selling the tickets alone, but I do not sell as many tickets as I used to,” said a woman who has been selling tickets in Nairobi for 20 years who asked that her name not be used for fear of losing her job.

To supplement her dwindling income, she stocks mobile phone recharge cards alongside the tickets. Questions now abound whether the BCLB is effectively policing the numerous lotteries that have sprung up in the last few years.

“I doubt they are genuine,” said Andrew Ndambiri, a matatu operator in Eastlands., says. But the board says they have strict vetting procedures for all public lotteries.

BCLB said before they are registered, applicants must show how they intend to carry out awareness of the lottery in the public domain and prove to the board that they can pay out the prizes promised. They must also support a charitable cause.

“The law is very clear on that; all public lottery is meant to raise money for charity,” said an official of the board.


According to the BCLB, audited statements of accounts proving that at least 25 per cent of the cash generated has gone to charity must be furnished to the board within two months of the final draw.

But the board concedes it does not have the technology to monitor mobile phone-based public lotteries and instead relies on the physical presence of its inspectors during every draw.

According to the board, text-based lotteries are executed by licensed content service providers via mobile phone companies.

And unlike the traditional lottery where board inspectors inspect the rolling drums and the selection of the winning ticket, the computer picks the winner for the SMS-based lottery, so officials have to ensure the pick is random.