Sports betting at home in Uganda, but is everyone a winner?
Ugandans have always been enterprising and fun loving people all rolled up in one.
So when European football picked up viewership here, it not only got a loyal following where for days on end you would find small groups of fans discussing and analyzing, or even predicting matches irrespective of social class, it also had the enterprising folks rubbing their hands in glee.
Enter sports betting:
Betting gave fans a channel to make money, to cement their views and analysis, more like “if you believe what you say why not make money out of it!”
It provided bragging rights and money at the same time; if your prediction came right, that is.
But betting or gambling is a game of chance and no matter the odds, the house, in this case the gaming company is designed to win more than any player.
However, according to Frank Kafeero, the Public Relations Officer at Gaming International, one of the biggest betting companies in Uganda, betting is just like any other business where one can either lose or win.
He says that the betting businesses are giving an opportunity to sports lovers to enjoy and cash in on their passion.
“We have actually gone ahead and provided free internet services to our clients so they can bet with the latest information,” he said recently.
The fad has caught up so fast that Gaming International has rolled out into Nairobi, with expectations to move into more East African countries later this year.
On whether gambling encourages a poor work ethic especially amongst young people, Kafeero says, this is rather a dim view of what sports betting is.
“We have brought a lot of professionalism into the business. This has made us get thousands of clients because they know at the end of any bet, they will be paid. That is the first thing. But we also encourage responsible betting and no one can bet more than Ushs 100,000 a day, for example; our system will automatically block them, no matter where they go,” Kafeero said.
A casual morning walk through Mukwano Arcade where Sports Betting Africa is housed reveals a flurry of activity with clients in hundreds cashing in on their previous day’s bets while others place new ones.
From this interest, which would fan any rival business owner’s envy comes the concerns of regulation, something which SBA’s Marketing Director Michael Galabuzi says is done by the Uganda Lottery Board.
In fact he says Government seems to have taken a keen interest in the business to the point of over taxation. “On top of the taxes we pay as a business, URA would now like to introduce an 18% VAT which will get us out of business,” he says. Industry sources indicate that an appeal has been lodged with the Ministry of Finance against this proposed taxation of the gambling business.
Uganda Lottery Board Chairman Manzi Tumubweine, in an earlier interview with The CEO Magazine confirmed that the board supervises sports betting, while The Ministry of Finance regulates the players.
However, an enabling law is yet to be put in place as the ones available only addresses general national lottery rather than betting.
But just how much money is in the business?
This seems to be a closely guarded secret and not many will give you a straight answer. But according to Kafeero, on a normal sports filled weekend, Gaming International attracts over 300,000 clients, from their over 138 locations country wide.
One can bet with as little as Ushs 500. That should give you an indication of how much money is at play. And betting houses will not normally take on more than what they can pay in wins in case of successful bids.
According to Simon Mpanga, the Chief Executive Officer of Gaming International, the company has set a cap on the total amount they can collect in bets.
“When we see that the money coming in is more than what we can pay out, our machines block those payments,” he was quoted in the media recently. That keeps the company from defaulting on its payments, even if it means frustrating some customers.
Betting on sports is a fairly simple process. Upon arrival, a player picks up a “fixture list”, which is basically a list of matches in the different leagues.
But increasingly different betting houses allow one to bet on horse racing, tennis, boxing, motor racing and football leagues not yet popular in Uganda. The concept is fairly simple, you place your bet on who may score in which match. Which team may win; sometimes even by how much goal difference. Getting any of those correct wins you money.
In most betting houses, a player must bet on at least two of the matches, with the stake starting from Ushs 500 for each bet placed.
Some betting companies will advertise better odds which mean you have more chances of winning, but in the actual sense, for the business to be sustained, there has to be more losses than wins.
Most players spoken to are all praises for the practice, and one has to look around long to find one who has lost more than won to quit. But it is not just the players who are losing.
Gaming houses tell of their woes through the increased cost of doing business. In order to be updated about every placed bet, their systems must be run throughout the country, and with the frequent power outages this means powering generators for all their sites every day which eats into their profits.
Some gaming houses have also complained of fraud from players who sometimes collude with employees.
Any gains yet for the economy?
Sports betting Companies also talk of their contribution to promotion of sport in Uganda, especially football although according to Kafeero, a lot needs to be addressed such as match fixing and keeping match day fixtures as communicated and advertised.
Other than that, it is increasingly becoming obvious that like any popular business, the trickle down effects of sports betting are being enjoyed.
Property owners in Kampala and other major towns are renting out whole floors to these gambling companies, they are selling franchises to other businesses, people as well as providing employment to a large group of Ugandans to run the business.
Recently, a new company Global Bets East Africa introduced online betting, digging further into the market of those who may want to bet as they travel or even from the comfort of their offices and homes.