[Photo/ Sportpesa]

Kenyans spent at least Ksh169.1 billion to place bets through Safaricom’s M-Pesa in the year ended March 2022, the latest Safaricom financial results have shown.

The amount can be used to build at least five Thika SuperHiways, at the cost of Ksh32 billion, the amount used by former President the late Mwai Kibaki to construct the road.

This is an indication of a growing betting craze in the country, even as Kenyans look for a shortcut to easy riches.

The amount grew 23.8 percent from Ksh136 billion a year earlier, earning the giant telco at least Ksh5.98 billion in betting revenues, a 40 percent rise.

The volume of bets funded from M-Pesa accounts grew 39 percent to 732.2 million, defying the government’s effort to curb betting addiction in the country.

The government has been trying to discourage betting through heavy taxation, which includes 7.5 percent of the value of bets placed, 20 percent of winnings and corporate taxes on betting firms.

For every Ksh100 you place as a stake, firms would be required to set aside Ksh20 as excise duty. The 20 percent tax was initially introduced in 2019, but betting firms successfully lobbied to have it removed through changes to the Finance Act 2020. Betting has in the past decade become a multi-billion dollar industry in Kenya – with sports betting and lottery brands such as Sportpesa, Betika and Odibets becoming some of the country’s most recognizable firms.

As of 2019, there were over 100 betting companies in the country, forcing the government to start a crackdown that saw the number drop drastically.

The Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) in September announced that it had suspended 70 M-Pesa pay bill numbers for unlicensed or unauthorised gaming activities run through broadcast channels.

The government has in the past said 54 percent of Kenyans involved in betting were low-income earners.

Read: KRA Eyes Betting Billions With 20% Stake Tax

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