Sports Gambling Mania Infects Kampala, But...
John Jenkins, the Englishman from London.

Sports Gambling Mania Infects Kampala, But...

"I’m a gambler and I will do it for the rest of my life."

By Risdel Kasasira
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First published: December 3, 2005

He has been gambling since he was 18 years old. Now, he is 48 and has over 500 betting shops in Europe. And last year on Nov. 16, Uganda became his second African country to invest in, after South Africa. That was the day he opened up a betting shop in Kabalagala, a Kampala city suburb.

Now the popular nightlife suburb is suddenly abuzz with gambling pulses, as most people with some cash on hand and feelings of luck rush in hundreds to the man who can multiply their cash amounts.

John Jenkins, an Englishman from London, has finally brought the titillating but risky business to Uganda and all indications are that he has found a business mine in the rapidly-changing ‘Pearl of Africa.’

And what better to bet on than football, which has caught many Ugandans by storm. At his shop, there are three screens from which gamblers watch football after betting.

Because of the different matches and leagues preferred by his ‘clients’ (what else could they be) three different football matches can be shown at a go with each screen connected to its decoder. Today, the walls inside the shop are covered with English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga betting charts.

Here, people come from all walks of life to bet on which team will win. If you want to bet, you first look at the chart and see how big is the multiple placed on each of the teams to be betted on. Jenkins multiplies the money you place on your bet with the multiple of the team you choose.

The higher the probability of a team to win, the less the multiple. The less the probability, the higher the multiple -- easy to understand rules and statistics for anybody who finds their way into this shop.

Jenkins says he has enough money to pay Ushs 125 million if one wins a bet. “I have invested in this business and I have enough money to pay for any bet,” he assures.

Is it a worthwhile business? “These days we are jammed up in the evenings and weekends during Premier League matches,” he says, an indication that business is going perfectly well for the Englishman.

This is even reflected in the two enthusiastic boys who work in the shop, writing for Jenkins the betting chits, multiplying the money and reporting to him after every match to tell him the amount of money collected.

“The number of customers is increasing rapidly. In the first week we had about ten customers but within two months, it is over three hundred in a week,” says one of the boys working in the sports betting shop.

So captivating is Jenkins betting shop that even Denis Tamale, a shopkeeper in Kabalagala doesn’t hesitate to take his hard earned shillings there to try his luck.

“At first we thought he would run away but now we have confirmed he is genuine. Me, I rarely go there but many of my friends have won different amounts of money ever since the shop began,” says Tamale.

And knowing the popularity of football in Uganda, like in many other countries, you realise what good business sense it is to put up a sports betting shop in a happening place like Kabalagala where sleeping at night seems to be a heavily punished crime to the many patrons.

But Jenkins knows it is not going to be an easy walk to stable gambling in Uganda. “I know that people here link gambling to criminality, but in most European countries gambling is a normal business. I’m a gambler and I will do it for the rest of my life,” he says as he sips a Nile Special in a bar next to his shop.

Jenkins has been moving around Europe for the last thirty years and has established sports betting shops in Denmark, Italy, Cyprus and France. “I have the biggest shop in Italy,” says a proud Jenkins.

He plans to put up over 34 shops in Kampala and promises to move to upcountry towns if people get used to the business. If you think he is joking, Jenkins has already acquired land at Uganda’s academic apex (Makerere University) to start another betting shop.

He hopes to introduce Ugandans to a world like in Britain where people bet on a wide range of activities including beauty contests, sports and names of the babies to be born to celebrities or politicians. “People there betted on the name of the Tony Blair’s last born,” says Alex Thompson, an Irish friend to Jenkins.

Jenkins says England is the country in Europe that has the most gambling activities. “I grew up with gamblers. That’s why I ended in this ‘f***in’ business,” he says. Now you know how he takes his career.

Other than gambling on the game, Jenkins has good news for the football fraternity in Uganda. He says he is in advanced stages of starting a football school for children in Uganda.

“I have already acquired a football pitch near Kampala International University. Kids will always converge in that place whenever time for football lessons comes. I have already contacted Danish coaches to come here and teach the kids to be selected in the June-July summer,” Jenkins told us.

Good news, but will the kids play in a major league where Ugandans can bet on teams of their own? That is the only question the busy but talkative businessman lends to “time will tell.”

By Risdel Kasasira
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First published: December 3, 2005
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Risdel Kasasira is a graduate Journalist who reports for Ultimate Media Consult. He has worked for The Daily Monitor, Radio Uganda and has done several communication related consultancies. He is also the Research Executive at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd.