On Saturday May 28, Kennedy Kosgei from Eldoret in western Kenya bet $500, which he had borrowed from a local bank, on the Spanish football league match between archrivals Real Madrid and their neighbours Atletico Madrid. When the match ended the score was one all. The teams had to go into penalties and Atletico Madrid lost. Mr Kosgei, lost the bet — and his life. His body was found hanging from a tree.
Fast forward four months later and new millionaires are being made every month.
Jared Ratemo, whose courier firm was struggling to stay afloat, won $180,000 of the mCheza jackpot from his multiple bets of $8.
“I lost many bets but I never gave up. Sometimes, I would spend up to $30 but end up losing. I placed two bets of $4 each, one predicting a draw and the other one a home win. I wasn’t sure I had won until the message came through,” said Mr Ratemo.
“I had vowed to keep betting until I hit the jackpot. I have a book where I record my predictions,” he added, displaying a copy of his predictions.
Wafula Munoko won the $183,576 SportPesa jackpot after placing a $1 bet.
“I have been betting for the past one year but I never expected to win this much. Last year, my wife showed me how to bet on the SportPesa platform but she has never won anything. This is my second jackpot win,” said Mr Munoko.
From single bets to multiple bets, the sports betting craze has caught on in the region, with some celebrating wins and others mourning losses. One can place a single bet or multiple bets, with as little as $5 and as much as $200.
Muthoni Kanana, a betting “tutor,” says she prefers making multiple bets on nondescript teams in lesser known leagues than the English Premier League.
“Single bets are a single amount on a single game while a multi-bet is a single amount on more than one game and the odds are multiplied to determine your winnings. You only win in a multi-bet when all your predictions come true. You can combine up to 20 picks in a multi-bet,” Ms Kanana says, adding that a safe multi bet should be made up of two or three bets known as doubles and trebles.
Moses Odhiambo, a sales executive, says sports betting is a “science” that requires patience, research and data analysis.
His biggest win so far has been $4,380 and he now depends on betting for his monthly fuel expense.
“Any serious gambler has a book with predictions, research and analysis. You don’t just wake up and place a bet. You have to understand the teams, their recent performances, their odds and the performance of the players. You are investing money so you have to do it in a smart way,” says Mr Odhiambo, adding, “I always pick a few selections for my multi-bets to increase my chances of winning. I divide my cash and select different multi-bets. This way, I diversify my risks and increase my chances of winning.”
But many stories of winners paint a picture of lucky individuals who didn’t have to do research, analysis or even fully understand sports betting.
Early this year, Elimah Khanaitsa, 27, won $220,000 after correctly predicting the outcome of 13 football matches listed by SportPesa. She won through the multi-bet platform by correctly predicting matches in the English Premiere league, the English Football League, the Spanish la Liga and the Primeira Liga.
“I have been betting for some time and I have been winning small amounts of money, which encouraged me. The first time I tried my luck with the jackpot and won only three games out of a possible 13, the next time that increased to seven games out of 13. I didn’t really do a lot of research on the teams,” said Ms Khanaitswa.
Ms Kanana said it takes luck to walk away with the betting firm’s winnings.
“I tell people to avoid being greedy. You don’t just walk into this with a lot of money because it will all be lost. Greed doesn’t work with betting.
For instance, I avoid placing multi-bets involving more than three games and also betting on games that have almost equal odds as they are somewhat difficult to predict,” she said, adding that the highest winnings she has walked away with was $4,300. But she has made close to $9,000 since 2014 when she started betting.
According to the industry’s regulator, the Betting Control and Licensing Board, (BCLB), Kenya currently has more than 30 licensed bookmakers.
However, Betin, SportPesa, mCheza and Betway are the most popular. SportPesa’s current jackpot stands at more than $1 million.
The betting firms have partnered with mobile money platforms so that winnings are sent to the participant’s phone once the matches end.
A recent report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows that the yearly turnover of the sports betting industry in Kenya is worth $20 million and will reach $50 million in 2020 as demand grows.
Already mCheza is diversifying away from sports and is offering its betting enthusiasts a chance to correctly predict who the winner of the US presidential election in November will be.
According to mCheza chief executive officer Peter Karimi, the high stakes in the US election offer betting enthusiasts a chance to make money.
Those wishing to place a bet will have three options to pick from, Democratic Party, Republican Party or any other party. However, mCheza has given Hillary Clinton a better chance of succeeding President Barack Obama compared with Donald Trump.
Mrs Clinton’s odds stand at 1.3 compared with Trump’s 3.0 while the odds for candidates from other parties have been placed at 40. This means that in the likely event that the other independent candidates win, a person who placed say a $20 bet will walk away with $800.
Recently, betting responsibly has been an issue of concern in many countries with most betting firms taking it up as an initiative.
Betin and SportPesa, for instance, limit how much a person can bet to Ksh20,000 ($200) a day.
In Europe and America, bookmakers have to adhere to strict regulations to protect customers.