Students turn to sports betting to meet campus costs

Cash-strapped Kenyan students are turning to sports betting instead of relying on loans or parental support, often with negative consequences for their studies.

Tony Nzioki, a fourth-year student at Kenyatta University, has been sports betting for the last six years in order to earn money for his daily needs and university fees. The 22-year-old economics and statistics student is now an analyst for the sports betting platform, SportPesa, with operations in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom.

“We are a group of 26, all students from four universities – Kenyatta University, Maseno University, the University of Nairobi and Pioneer International University,” Nzioki told University World News.

Football analysts

Of the 26, he says there are three analysts specialising in football games who determine which games are likely to win. They put their predictions on the group’s WhatsApp group they formed a year ago, and the group members bet individually, based on what they can afford.

“As the analysts, we are paid US$10 for the prediction we send the group for the day. This is money contributed by the group members,” he said.

The highest amount a student has won in the group is US$600 but the amount ranges between US$30 and US$100 for a bet.

Nzioki says because the temptation for students to spend fees money on placing bets is high, the group has set rules and warnings to the group members so that they don’t hold anyone in the group liable should they find themselves in trouble.

The success of mobile money banking has revolutionised gambling in Kenya through sports betting. This has seen the penetration of many foreign UK betting companies that have opened offices in Kenya. In addition to SportPesa, the largest in Kenya for mobile betting, other companies include BetYetu, Betway, Betin, mCHEZA, Elitebet, JustBet and Eazibet. The bets cost as little as US$5 and the wins range from between US$10 to over US$10,000 for a jackpot.

Students ‘at risk’

Studies show that university students in Kenya are an ‘at risk’ group in relation to online gambling.

A 2016 study by Dr Rachel Koross of the department of social science in the University of Eldoret School of Education indicates that most students at the university say sports betting is a smart way of making money to survive at the university, rather than relying on loans and parental support.

The study found that the number of university students in Kenya who are participating in gambling is greater than 78%, hence the prevalence of gambling among Kenyan university students is high. It also found that gambling had an influence on student behaviour.

When asked if they have ever used their fees or daily needs money to bet, 30% of the students stated that they did very often, 25% often, 20% sometimes and 25% never.

“This is a habit that is evident in most universities in that students have been reported to have missed exams or have dropped out of college because of non-payment of fees after using the money to bet and having lost,” the study states.


Dr Scholastica Odhiambo, an economics lecturer at Maseno University, said the main reason the students bet is because of lack of funds to sustain themselves while on campus.

“The majority of the university students get little pocket money from their parents and therefore have to find other means like, now, sports betting to survive,” Odhiambo told University World News, adding that other students get involved as a result of peer pressure.

While universities can run campaigns on the dangers of betting uncontrollably, the universities cannot control or regulate betting.

She said that there is need for the universities to establish a students’ support system which can help students engage in other social activities besides betting.

In order to regulate the sports betting and gambling in the country the government has imposed a uniform 15% tax rate on all gambling revenue – up from the previous 7.5%.