Betting company SportPesa says it is pushing for tighter regulations to make the industry more transparent and responsible.
Chief executive officer Ronald Karauri says the company, a premier sports betting firm in Kenya, has invested heavily in its operations and it wants the Betting Control and Licensing Board to up its game in ensuring all players adhere to the existing rules.
“We have been pushing for regulation through the association of gaming; for them to update and put proper regulation and ensure due diligence.... And if MPs are being honest in pushing for regulation, all they need to do is to go to the regulator,” says Mr Karauiri.
“What the MPs have been talking about – that the US does not allow online and mobile phone betting – their case is special because they have Las Vegas; because when you go online, it means you will reduce traffic to Vegas.”
He said SportPesa has been advocating responsible betting, first by capping the amounts a person can bet at Sh20,000. “We also have the option of our customer care centre,” he said. “And we’re looking into ways of having a helpline where we partner with a firm, where someone who has a problem can actually call in. Anything can be abused, from food to nyama choma where people have problems with hypertension, to young people and alcohol, to anything. Now you hear hata kuna (there is even) sex addiction.”
He said SportPesa does not allow underage betting, since anybody placing a bet must have an M-Pesa account. “Can you be on M-Pesa without an ID (card)?” he poses.
Mr Karauri says the notion that Kenya’s betting industry is unregulated is flawed. “It’s the same way in the US, to get a driving licence you need to be 16 (years). But to drink? 21. Here, we can drink at 18 and drive at 18. Does it mean that Kenya has failed?” he asked, adding that there is room for improvement.
Mr Karauri reads malice in the bid by MPs to impose draconian regulations on the industry, saying the bid is driven by rumours of SportPesa’s purported big income, not statistics. “Rumours that ‘SportPesa are paying Sh6 billion to Hull (City), which is a wrong figure,” he says, adding that there is no comparison between his company and a pyramid scheme, as some people have alleged.
But the 37-year-old manager, who has rubbed shoulders with directors of top EPL clubs, says it is not as rosy for SportPesa as it seems. “Every day, people must win; unless everyone is betting on the losing team. Today, the house might win but there are days we suffer heavy losses,” he says.
Founded in 2014 with an initial capital of Sh400 million, SportPesa has grown to be the leading betting firm in Kenya with two million subscribers. It employs 200 people at its snazzy offices at Chancery Building in Nairobi.
Today, SportPesa is a big mover of M-Pesa transactions in Kenya.