How gambling can change people’s financial and social behavior
Two examples from the mobile gambling qualitative research highlight how bettors are changing their financial and social behavior to accommodate their gambling habit. Jeddiah owns a small, green grocery stall in a densely populated low-income settlement in Nairobi. She is married with four school-aged children. She started her business about a year ago to supplement her husband’s income.
Like many of her neighbors, Jeddiah has been busy with mobile sports betting. Although she says her husband “is not a serious bettor,” one day she asked him to show her how she could also start to place sports bets. However, fearful of being blamed for any losses, he wasn’t willing to help her lean. Instead, Jeddiah turned to her male customers since men tend to be more knowledgeable about the game. It wasn’t easy at first; she knew nothing about football and had trouble understanding the constant SMS updates she received from the sports betting companies. After a few trials and with continued help from her customers, she learned how to place bets and has been playing ever since. But she still considers herself a beginner and is currently only placing bets on single games at a time. She hopes to advance quickly and sees a potential to win a lot more, including the jackpot.
Since she started betting, Jeddiah has modified aspects of her financial and social behavior. She used to contribute KES 50 per day to a ROSCA comprised of a group of women who also own similar small businesses. After 10 days, she would receive a payout of KES 500. In contrast, when she placed her first mobile sports gambling bet she won KES 300 in one day. After a few days she then won KES 500. Given her recent good luck, she decided she no longer needed to be part of the ROSCA.
The influence of gambling spread to her social life as well. Jeddiah used to attend afternoon church services every day. Now, however, she doesn’t have time for church. Instead, she takes part in the neighborhood’s afternoon betting discussion groups to learn about what teams are playing and which ones are good bets.
Elfas, another respond, has seen different changes in his financial life. Married with two children, he has been a matatu (mass public transport van) driver for the last four years. His wife looks after the children and is a part time hairdresser. Elfas has encountered many challenges in his line of work. He is frequently arrested by traffic officers because, as he says, “no matatu has all the requirements that are stipulated under the laws of public transportation, especially the ones that ply the town service routes.” Whenever he is arrested and the matatu is towed away, he doesn’t receive his daily commission of KES 400. He then has to borrow from friends or take credit at a shop to cover daily expenses. Elfas is also at the mercy of the matatu owner who can decide to take back the vehicle for the day, leaving Elfas with no work.
When Elfas’ friend told him he could obtain extra cash by betting on mobile sports, he was immediately interested; he had already heard how people were earning money from the habit. During his first three months betting, he only won small amounts and lost frequently. After three months, he suspected that his friends were winning more than him because their betting was online while his was via SMS. Therefore, he aptly bought a secondhand smartphone and joined the bandwagon. He has begun placing multiple and combination bets that promise larger payoffs, and despite not winning regularly, he continues with this strategy in the hope of a large win someday. Eventually, Elfas even quit his job as a matatu driver, since he claimed he was earning more from mobile sports betting.
The highest amount of money he claimed to have won at the time of the interview was KES 35,000. When he had large wins, Elfas transfered his winnings to his M-PESA account and used the money for household expenses such as rent. But his betting statement showed that, despite a few wins in the thousands of shillings, overall he had lost money. Eventually, Elfas returned to work driving a matatu, though he hasn’t given up gambling quite yet.
From the stories of Jedidah and Elfas, it is obvious that gambling has the potential to change people’s behavior and prompt life-changing decisions that affect livelihoods and families. For low-income people, such changes can have adverse ramifications on their financial situation.
But why is gambling such a powerful force? Read the third blog to learn more.
 Names have been changed to protect identities.