I went to Kenya in 1995 a couple of years after leaving Monte Carlo (Loews Casino – but that is another story and perhaps another article!) and at that time there were 4 casinos in Nairobi; The International, the Intercontinental, Safari Park and the Mayfair. Today, although there are more than 15 casinos and more opening in the near future. Is the casino industry trying to catch up with South Africa? It looks that way.

As an ex-British Colony, Kenya’s Gaming Rules are based on English rules. No tables can be opened or closed without the presence of a gaming board official.

When I first arrived in Kenya 90% of the customers were locally born Indians whose ancestors arrived in Kenya as slaves brought by the British to build a railroad. The other 10% were local expatriates.

Today as the financial situation in Kenya improves one finds more and more local Kenyans who enjoy gambling. Nevertheless, most of the commercial businesses, banking and construction, supermarkets etc are owned by the local Indian population.

Over the last few years Kenya’s tourism has increased sharply and photographic safaris are a beautiful experience – I for one, would love to repeat.

A Few Facts About Kenya

In 1899, Kenya’s capital city Nairobi was an uninhabited swampland called by the local Masai, the place of cold water and from a basic camp for railways construction workers by 1907 had become a small town and capital of British East Africa and today is a thriving modern capital.

The Masai are a tribe of warriors and the image most people have of them is that of a very tall, very lean man with a spear clutched in one hand and his red cloth wrapped around his waist or over his shoulders. Their lives revolve entirely around their cattle because they believe that as God entrusted his cattle to them, their wealth is measured by the number of cattle they own.

They live in small settlements surrounded by a thorn bush fence as protection. The long thorns of the thorn bush are as sharp as barbed wire and the men tie branches together to form the fence. At night the cattle, goats and other domestic animals are brought inside for protection against wild animals.

The Masai drink milk from their cows or goats every day and if there is not enough milk they mix it with cow’s blood obtained by shooting an arrow in the jugular vein of the cow’s neck. A gourd is use to collect the blood – the Masai believe the blood makes them very strong.

Women decorate animal hides and gourds with beads and make jewelry including arm and leg bracelets and necklaces. These are always a highlight of the market stalls.

Just outside the city is Nairobi National Park home to large herds of Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Rhino, Cheetah, Lions and more are found here, living wild within 20 minutes of the centre of town. Venture further out of town and you will find the spectacular 27m deep ‘Fourteen Falls’ waterfalls at Thika and for those more adventurous, an hour’s drive from there you will find white water rafting on the Tana River.

Nairobi is a city of great contrasts that never seems to sleep. It has an excellent museum, once the historical home of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. From the wildlife to the nightlife, Nairobi is a city unlike any other with a fantastic music scene, excellent international restaurants and a colourful array of shops and markets, it has plenty to offer.

Mombasa is an island connected to the mainland by bridges and ferries, the town overlooking a wide harbour where the traditional sailing dhows are equally at home with the commercial shipping. At the dhow docks fresh fish and goods from all along the coast arrive daily.

A hot, dusty and bustling city, it is the second largest city in Kenya and the leading commercial and tourist port in the East African continent. It is steeped in history and in the heart of Mombasa in the exotic old town, with its vibrant mixture of cultures and where the air is heavy with spices and busy markets you will see women wearing the tradition bui bui and the bright colours of the traditional coastal khanga and kikoy, the all purpose wrap around cloth worn by both men and women.

The Mombasa region with some of the loveliest beaches offers something for everyone. The beaches are white and sandy with coral reefs much to the delight of scuba and skin divers alike. If you wish to escape the heat, visit the Shimba Hills National Reserve amid hills and rainforest which being about 450m above sea level is much cooler. Just 45 minutes from the Indian Ocean you will find Kenya’s last breeding herds of the Sable antelope. Also sighted most evenings at Shimba’s floodlit waterhole are elephant, buffalo, civet and bush babies amongst others who share this home.

Diani Beach, where I lived for three years, has over 15 km of white sandy beaches and Malindi where there are many Italians and good restaurants and where I also lived, both have casinos.

Casinos in Nairobi

The International Casino was the first casino in Nairobi owned by an Italian Count. Situated between the city centre and the residential area, it was an American style casino with cabaret, high class restaurants, discos and bars.

In the 80s the CEO and the GM of the International left and opened their own casino in Nairobi Westlands called The Mayfair Casino where I worked for 3 years. In just 2 years it became the No 1 casino in Kenya and today with more than 15 casinos in Nairobi it maintains the same position. One of the owners, sold his shares and is now a partner in the Las Vegas Casino situated about 500 metres from The Mayfair and has made it a very successful venture.

The Mayfair then went on to buy out The Intercontinental Casino in 2000 which has been totally refurbished and is today enjoying excellent business.

The Safari Park Hotel & Casino owned by the Korean-based corporation is one Kenya’s largest theme park to date and situated 15 minutes outside the centre of Nairobi. On the site of what was once a British Officers club it became a small hotel used by travellers on their way up north. It was in 1974 that it became the Safari Park Hotel which was continuously expanded and renovated until it officially opened in November 1992.

Casinos in Mombasa

There are another 5 casinos in the centre of Mombasa, the most well-known being The Golden Key Casino on the rooftop of the famous Tamarind seafood Restaurant overlooking the ocean surrounding Mombasa.

Then in Diani Beach (Ukunda) there are two more casinos called Diani Reef and Leisure Lodge Beach & Golf Resort.

The Legend Casino also in Diani which I owned with 3 other partners is no longer in existence as the company that bought it went bankrupt, but it was unique with a huge replica elephant paddling in the pool outside – it looked so real. The casino itself was situated high in the makuti roof of a very large African style building.


EXTRACT: Kenya: Plans for Three Resort Cities

As reported in

East African Standard (Nairobi)

30 August 2007
Posted to the web 30 August 2007

Al Abdi

The Government is planning to develop three resort cities in the next five years in a project aimed at making Kenya among the top tourist destinations in the world.

The establishment of the three resort cities-two at the Coast and the other in Isiolo is classified as tourism’s flagship project to be completed by 2012.

The move is part of the Government’s all-encompassing national development plan, Vision 2030, which is envisaged to put Kenya at par with the Asian Tiger countries like Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
At the coast, one will be located at the North Coast while the second one will be at the South Coast. The third in Isiolo District will be located just on the outskirts of Isiolo town.

Vision 2030 is national long-term growth plan that aims at transforming Kenya into a globally competitive and prosperous nation, offering a high quality of life for all its citizens, by 2030.

Last week, a high-powered delegation led by Permanent secretaries Mr Mohamed Mahamud (Roads), Mr Zachary Mwaura (Defence) and Dr Hukka Wario (PS, East African Community) said in Isiolo the Government will make tourism as its cornerstone for development.

“Tourism will be the leading sector in achieving the goals of the vision where it is aimed that the country will be among the 10 long haul tourist destination in the world, offering a high-end, diverse and distinctive visitor experience that few of her competitors can offer,” reads part of the policy document.

Scenery that rivals Hollywood

The Government has already opened discussions on the project with the Isiolo County Council. About 1, 000 hectares needs to be allocated for the resort project.

The Permanent Secretaries, who were accompanied by experts from the various ministries who helped develop the policy document, said Kenya aims to beat South Africa, Egypt and Morocco in tourist arrivals in the next five years.

In the Vision, the Government plans to focus on three specific areas to achieve the goals for 2012;

– to quadruple tourism’s GDP contribution to over Ksh80 billion;

– to raise international visitors from 1.8 million in 2006 to three million in 2012 while raising average spend per visitor from the current Sh40,000 to at least Sh70,000 and;

– to increase hotel beds from 40,000 to about 65,000, combined with an emphasis on high quality service.

Developed on the model of South Africa’s Sun City, each of the resort cities in Kenya will be allocated enough hectares of land to enable the facilities have casinos, golf courses, restaurants and discotheques among other features……………………

Mario Ingretolli