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Captain Ronald Karauri always loved poker and it birthed SportPesa

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Captain Ronald Karauri
Captain Ronald Karauri. Photo/Maisha Television Kenya
  • Captain Ronald Karauri dropped out of mechanical engineering class
  • He joined KQ where he was trained as a pilot
  • Karauri left KQ after 11 years to manage SportPesa

Captain Ronald Karauri is not an ordinary businessman – he transitioned from a highflying Kenya Airways pilot to become CEO of East Africa’s leading betting firm, SportPesa.

How he let all the glamour of being a pilot fall off, and venture into the murky, but lucrative world of gaming is mind-blowing.

Karauri was born in Meru but moved to Nairobi while still young. His politician father moved them to the prestigious Buru Buru neighbourhood.

He was a bright student and was admitted to Mang’u High School. He later got an admission to the University of Nairobi to pursue Mechanical Engineering.

“As I was doing mechanical engineering, the opportunity for Kenya Airways opened up. It was the first time they were doing initial pilot training. So, I dropped out of university in my third year of mechanical engineering and started flying with Kenya Airways,” Nation quotes him.

Captain Ronald Karauri

Captain Ronald Karauri. Photo/Hivisasa

Karauri worked with the national carrier for 11 years – six as co-captain and five as a captain. He finally saw the light and left for greener pastures.

But, just how did the SportPesa CEO get here to a point he ruled Kenya’s betting industry? There were just three shareholders at SportPesa when he was enticed to leave KQ: Guerassim Nikolov, Gene Grand, and Dick Wathika.

The business mogul never saw himself as the man who would take SportPesa from a struggling startup to the largest betting company in East Africa.

In 2014, Captain Ronald Karauri met Guerassim Nikolov, the controversial and principal SportPesa creator. He was at a poker table on the first floor of the dimly lit Finix Casino in Hurlingham, Nairobi.

Being a son of a politician, Karauri carved his niche in life and besides being a pilot, he was a devoted poker player.

Nonetheless, it was just luck that he ran into the Bulgarian that night. The two poker fans hit it up right away as they faced off in a competitive poker tournament at the Casino.

As they jumped from one poker game to the next, the strangers rapidly formed a bond and their friendship grew stronger.

Karauri feels that his favourite pastime, poker, may reveal a person’s actual personality. And he knew he could trust Nikolov at this table.

Once they reached this point, they would meet a couple more times before deciding to start a betting enterprise together.

To this day, Captain Ronald Karauri holds poker close to his heart because he believes it brings out people’s true character, he told Nation.

Four years after pooling resources with Bulgarian investors, his risk-taking paid off to a tune off of

As a result of the company’s spectacular success to become East Africa’s largest betting firm, the decision paid off four years later, when their wealth grew. SportPesa generated $ 1,318,413,300 (KSh150 billion) in income annually by December 2020.

He cherishes the memory of his initial encounter with his Bulgarian business partners.

When the government introduced 20% tax on betting stakes in the country, SportPesa halted business operations in Kenya.

Karauri said the 35 percent taxation on revenue before subtracting operating expenditures was too high.

He added that SportPesa was often mistaken for a lottery, but there are days when their books were in the red at the company.

It would later rebound when SportPesa was re-licensed by Milestone Games Limited in October 2019 after a year-long ban. It started its operations in 2021.

After the ban, Kenyans came out guns blazing citing that the Bulgarian investors were criminals. But Karauri vehemently quashed this narrative.

Ronald Karauri

Captain Ronald Karauri. Photo/Classic 105

He also says that while several quarters condemned gambling, SportPesa was not to blame.

“Most of the stories you hear are speculative. Sometimes you underestimate Kenyans. I can tell you that guys (winners) invest wisely, some buy land and other property. Kenyans are very responsible,” he tells the Standard.

Captain Ronald Karauri says that nailing a jackpot is about integrity because it is hard to manipulate the outcome.

As to why a majority of jackpots ended up with people of little means, Karauri said that it was God’s way of blessing them.

Besides his job as pilot and businessman, Karauri loves cars, and watches. He has a collection of them.

Just recently, his wife Captain Ruth Karauri stunned the world after skillfully landing a KQ Boeing 787plane at Heathrow Airport amidst Storm Eunice.

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