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Unmasking billionaires in betting industry


Village Elder
As other directors of betting firms in the multi-billion-dollar industry prefer to remain reclusive, Mr Karauri, who has grown SportPesa from an unknown entity to the global behemoth it is today, lets his flamboyance open for all to see.
His social media pages are photo albums of a man living a flamboyant life which a majority in the betting community can only dream of. After all, the son of the former Tigania MP Mathew Adams Karauri, who incidentally does not bet but has said in the past he plays poker once a month, has made big gambles in his life which all paid off.

Kenya 7s coach Innocent Simiyu (left) SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri KRU boss Richard Omwela and Lionesses coach
Kevin Wambua at Norfolk on November 22, 2016. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I am actually a college dropout. That is the only gap in my CV. Everybody knows I didn’t finish campus but you know in life sometimes that is where it takes you so long as you are successful,” he said during an interview with K24 TV on December 2017.
Mr Karauri dropped out of an engineering class at the University of Nairobi to try his luck at Kenya Airways and ended up as a pilot for 11 years. He tried his luck in the entertainment industry and was part of the ownership of the once-popular Skyluxx Lounge in Westlands before quitting. He then sold off a piece of land he had bought for Sh2 million at a cool Sh25 million in order to buy shares in SportPesa which was just starting.
That was in 2014 and mobile phone betting was still unchartered territory. Apart from casinos, the only other widely accepted form of gambling then was the Kenya Charity Sweepstake in which people bought raffle tickets hoping to get matching winning numbers. On Friday, British newspaper The Guardian said Sportpesa made Sh100 billion in revenues last year, a figure the company has vehemently denied before.
“No one even thought it could go anywhere. I remember asking some guys. ‘Do you have some cash to put into this thing?’ They would tell me ‘Boss, what is this? You’re talking about gambling. It can’t work,” Mr Karauri told Business Daily in a past interview

It is, however, one of the speakers on the night SportPesa was launched on February 1, 2014 who gave the Sunday Nation a peak into the convoluted underbelly of a giant industry the government is now fighting hard to rein in.
“It is very unusual for a politician to maintain old friendships. But I value my friendship with Gero, Genata and the whole team. I am very proud that Gero, who is one of my best friends, is the engine of this team,” said Bulgarian Politician Slavcho Slavi Binev during the launch of SportPesa in 2014.
Mr Binev was referring to Gerasim Nikolov, SportPesa’s global Chief Executive Officer and 21 percent shareholder. Mr Binev himself was in a 2005 WikiLeaks cable described by former US Ambassador in Bulgaria James Pardew as the head of an organized criminal enterprise called the MIG Group.
“The group’s business interests also include construction and tourism; it operates a travel agency as part of its Cool Place entertainment complex. The group’s criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics and trafficking stolen automobiles,” said the cable.
Mr Nikolov, on the other hand, moved to Kenya just before 2,000 and launched the famed Toto 6/49 which was a replica of a similar Bulgarian lottery. Toto 6/49 which was run by First Lotto Limited was licensed to challenge the monopoly of the Kenya Charity Sweepstake on the basis of its support for the physically-disabled and the destitute.
The company halted operations on February 28, 2011 amid claims that it had run short of gaming tickets without ever dishing out its Sh20 million jackpot.
Mr Nikolov then went under for three years before partnering with 10 other shareholders to start SportPesa which is currently in trouble with the State and 27 other firms.
Like Mr Nikolov who came to Kenya for other ventures before joining the gambling industry, Italian Leandro Giovando came to Kenya to join his relative Nico Giovando. Nico Giovando was born in Nyeri in 1954 and though he lived in Europe as he grew up, upon his return to Kenya, he started Almanara Luxury Resort.
Located just five minutes’ away from Diani airstrip, the hotel is a favorite for very deep-pocketed individuals, business moguls, international celebrities and politicians.
In July 2010, renowned Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho spent three weeks at the facility with his family. After winning the 2013 elections, President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto spent a couple of days at the property.

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