By the end of 2018, about 6 million Kenyans were betting on the Sportpesa platform every day, averaging Sh600 million a day. The company enjoyed explosive growth from its relatively humble beginnings of over 1 billion in 2014 -- when the company was set up -- to Sh150 billion turnover in 2018, just before the government pulled the plug on the company over a tax dispute and security concerns about some of its owners.
Sportpesa was Kenya's most successful betting company. Kenya's betting craze was created by this company. The amount of money in betting is simply astounding, the number of people involved is staggering, and the effects of betting on Kenya's population are unquantified.
But just what happened in Sportpesa boardrooms? Is the company really guilty of the crimes it was accused of? And what did the company do to warrant the aggressive clampdown, the kind never seen in the country before?
In this podcast, Country Of Gamblers, we explore the effects of Sportpesa on the country.
A Broken System
By 2018, Sportpesa was raking in billions of shillings.
In just four years, the startup had figured out the Kenyan market. By this time, other betting companies were mushrooming all over Kenya, playing catch up.
There was money to be made, the market was open, too liberal without restrictions, legal or otherwise.
The Bulgarians were at the center of it all.
They became extremely wealthy and they were celebrities in some social circles.
They were the Mr Money bags, and they attracted so much attention, with everything they did.
Authorities who are supposed to oversee the critical betting industry in the country, were kind of in it.
In this episode, A Country of Gamblers explores the broken gambling market in Kenya and delves deeper into the murky world of money laundering, tax evasion and profit shifting. It also reveals just why it is easy to get away with almost anything in this sector.
Death and Tears
Cosmas Korir was not the only big winner of jackpots in Kenya. His Sh208 million win in 2018 was also not the biggest. Before him, there had been Samuel Abisai, who pocketed Sh221 million.
But the luckiest jackpot winner in Kenya's betting history is Gordon Ogada. Mr Ogada, a Kibera resident then, won a Sh230 million jackpot in 2018 after he correctly predicted the outcome of 17 matches. To date there are six mega jackpot winners in the history of Sportpesa who were lucky winners of between Sh111 million and Sh230 million.
These were not all the winners. Those who did not get the mega jackpot had midweek jackpots to fight for. In total, there were 118 punters who won between Sh5 million and Sh81 million in these midweek jackpots.
But this was not the story of everyone. There were more than half a million youth who were blacklisted by the Credit Reference Bureau, having borrowed mobile loans, placed their bets and lost.
Then there were addictions, debt and suicides.
A Gamblers Paradise
How does it feel to win Sh208 million? Can you imagine it? What do you do first?
Do you change your lifestyle immediately? Do you let the money stay in the bank for a day, a week, or a month? What would you do? Is this even real?
To over six million gamblers at the height of the betting craze in Kenya, winning the Jackpot was the most important show. This is where the big monies are, it is the dream land for betting.
The question on winners and especially big money winners is a dicy one, while Sportpesa told us we could visit all their winners, A Country of Gamblers had trouble accessing other big winners except Cosmas Korir, the Sh208 million jackpot winner. In this episode, we try to answer the question, were the wins real wins? But does it end like this for everyone? By the time of the big wins, Sportpesa had become an unstoppable betting machine. It got everything right, with deep pockets for sponsorships, talented founders, and knee-deep connections in the right places.
Episode 4 PROMO
How does it feel to win Sh208 million? Can you imagine it?
What do you do first?
Do you change your lifestyle immediately? Do you let the money stay in the bank for a day, a week, or a month?
What would you do?
Is this even real?
Enter the Captain
Love or hate them, Sportpesa's rise into a giant betting company did not just happen by chance.
The company got almost everything right. It had deep pocketed investors and very talented founders.
Then it acquired friends in the right places, from inside parliament to where it matters in the judiciary. It also launched when the Kenyan market was ready for the betting craze, and it was rewarded handsomely for its pain.
It also had an efficient betting platform that paid promptly, winning it enormous public trust, which is the most important currency in betting.
But most importantly, the company had a great captain in Ronald Karauri, a son of a politician, who in four years transformed a tiny small company into an enviable firm that was minting billions every month. And it triumphed here at home and abroad.
In this episode, Captain Karauri takes a Country of Gamblers to the foundations of Sportpesa, & explains how the betting juggernaut was put together to a roaring success.
Hundreds of lottery ticket sellers for Kenya Charity Sweepstake woke up one morning to find that their kiosks, their source of livelihoods, had been demolished by the Nairobi City Council, on the directions of then-mayor Wathika.
Wathika had set the grounds for the Bulgarians who would later join hands to set up Sportpesa. If SportPesa were a puppet, Nikolov would be its master; the man behind the velvety curtains, the unseen hand pulling the strings, directing the orchestra. He was not the only Bulgarian.
This is the story of how Sportpesa rose like a whirlwind and became a national sensation. Who pulled what strings and the men and women who made the billions.