In Summary
  • It would be delusional to wish betting away. It is an ancient phenomenon that predates the Bible, only now, with new technology, you can bet on anything, from anywhere.

The fortunes of one Samuel Abisai continue to excite discussions among millions of Kenyans, both those so low that they do not know where their next meal will come from and those so high that they can afford to build a skyscraper and wait for years to fill it up with tenants. Abisai, of course, is the villager who won Sh221 million in the Sportpesa jackpot the other day.

In any currency, $2.21 million is a hefty sum. According to financial experts, unless Abisai does something abnormally foolish, his future and that of generations of his family is secure.

SportPesa mega jackpot winner Samuel Abisai addresses journalists in Nairobi on May 2, 2017. PHOTO | STELLA CHERONO |

SportPesa mega jackpot winner Samuel Abisai addresses journalists in Nairobi on May 2, 2017. PHOTO | STELLA CHERONO |

The amount involved boggles the mind, but there is exactly nothing new in this news. Since the ancient Greeks gave us organised sports more than 3,000 years ago, humankind has bet on outcomes.

While competitors in the field pursued prizes such as a crown of olive leaves and a statue of oneself built in their honour, spectators in the stands bet on who was going to get those. Betting is as old as sport and will last for as long as sport lasts.

If you tried to find out the reasons why people bet, you will end up with the character descriptions of the people surrounding you.

Let’s consider just two: In the opening match of the 27th Africa Cup of Nations in Angola in 2010, the hosts racked up a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 lead against Mali. The fourth goal came with just 16 minutes remaining on the clock. At that point a punter decided to place a bet on Mali. He wagered $7.8, about Sh780.

The bookmakers were happy. But what happened next? Mali flooded Angola with goals. Final score: Angola 4-4 Mali. The punter collected $7,800 or Sh780,000. Is there a person near you who behaves like that punter?

Case two: In September, 2001, Tottenham Hotspur was playing Manchester United. At the point at which they led the Red Devils 3-0, a Tottenham fan placed his entire mortgage on his team winning the match. He was trying to impress his new girlfriend. But United came back and won 5-3. The fan, or rather fool, was left homeless - and probably single, too. What kind of person does such a thing?


Betting is the craze that has taken Kenya by storm. But that is only because the technology has changed. That is the only new thing. In this era of the smartphone, you can bet on anything in the world from wherever you are in it. This makes the joys and agonies immediate but more significantly, the news goes viral there and then.

News about the newly-minted millionaires and the newly dead from suicides reaches us in a flash in our workplaces, worship centres, restaurants, market places, washrooms and in between commuting.

Yet something or the other has always taken our lives by storm. When I was a little boy, when James Siang’a was the Harambee Stars goalkeeper, I remember the craze was boogie dancing. It drove parents into despair. Our young people are getting lost, they mourned. I don’t know how the problem of boogie dancing was solved. I suspect people simply grew.

Then came other problems, like television. Parents said children were no longer studying because they had become addicted to television. It was apocalypse now. But I no longer hear that television is the national disaster that it was hysterically made to be. In fact, save for the quadrennial conflicts over the remote control during the Fifa World Cup, it seems to be a major asset. But even these conflicts seem to be receding into history because there is a sports bar around the next bend on the road.

There was a time when it was impossible to hold a conversation of any duration with a Kenyan without talking about pyramid schemes. It had been their turn to take the country by storm. Some people won, others lost. Some became really sick. Many are those who died, some suddenly and others slowly. It is the winners who baited the losers. And all that seems splendidly forgotten.

In dealing with the ancient phenomenon of sports betting that predates the Bible but which we are erroneously calling a new craze, I think we should be less emotional and more pragmatic.

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