In Summary
  • The underlying message in the recent government incursions into the betting industry was that these companies had gone too far in pushing a vice at young Kenyans who now saw betting as a way of earning a living.
  • A recently-released Kenya Media Landscape report by Reelforge and TIFA Research found that betting companies had been the top advertisers in the country in 2017 and 2018, spending over Sh20 billion a year.
  • But the betting industry had produced few winners and many losers, and with the government also crying foul about a hole in their pockets.
  • So what is the way forward for the betting industry?

July 2019 has probably been the toughest month for Kenya’s betting industry, which has weathered different storms over the years, including advertising bans, tax increases and new regulatory bills from Parliament.

This began with reports of demands for Sh26 billion of taxes owed by betting companies. One government agency moved to restrict their advertising and then the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) announced that the licenses of twenty-seven companies had been suspended and moved to cut off their messaging and payment systems by writing to telecommunications companies that have been their key access point to their customers. The Central Bank of Kenya also alerted banks to watch the accounts of betting companies and the Immigration Department announced that it was deporting 17 betting firm directors, without naming them or the amounts they owed.

The crackdown coordinated by Kenya’s Interior Ministry, the parent ministry of the BCLB, targeted firms including SportPesa, Betin, Betway, and 1XBet, which featured heavily in the just-ended Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. The underlying message was that these companies had gone too far in pushing a vice at young Kenyans who now saw betting as a way of earning a living, thanks to these high profile companies.

A recently-released Kenya Media Landscape report by Reelforge and TIFA Research found that betting companies had been the top advertisers in the country in 2017 and 2018, spending over Sh20 billion a year. Sportpesa, Betin and 1XBet featured among the most visited websites by Kenyans while Betpawa was, alongside eCitizen and KRA, among websites where Kenyans spent the most time.

REMAINED SECRET

The betting industry had produced few winners and many losers, and with the government also crying foul about a hole in their pockets, the writing was on the wall. Companies that fall under the government label of 'sin taxes' like alcohol and tobacco producers lament that they pay over half their revenue to the government through different taxes and licenses fees. This is probably the minimum expectation for betting companies, and indeed, proposals for 35 percent or 50 percent taxes were components in recent parliamentary bills.

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