What does the future hold for online gambling in Kenya?

#FeatureByCapriComms - Home to over 50 million people, Kenya is an economic giant in East and Central Africa

#FeatureByCapriComms

Kenya landscape is a tapestry of picturesque wildlife, towering mountains, and a youthful population eager to make a difference in the world.

Home to over 50 million people, Kenya is an economic giant in East and Central Africa.

It is against this background that betting firms have rushed in droves to capture a piece of the betting cake.

Kenya gambling market is enormous and estimated to be worth $40 million dollars as of 2020. The large youthful population, widespread unemployment rates and high internet penetration rates has led to the rapid growth of its betting market.

The Kenyan gambling market is widely dominated by sport betting with European leagues being the most preferred.

Betting has been part of the Kenyan life for decades. It is not unusual to find small groups of people circled over a threadbare table betting on cards.

For the most part betting was largely a preserve of high-end hotel establishments which offered it as part of their entertainment packages.

With the introduction of mobile money there was an explosion in the betting scene to unprecedented levels. This has led to a false narrative, if you want to escape poverty win big in any of the major jackpots.

For the majority of the Kenyan youths, the assumption is betting is a new phenomenon as new as the latest iPhone.

However, the history of betting in Kenya goes back to almost half a century ago with the introduction of the Betting Lotteries and Gaming Act of the United Kingdom in 1966. At this point in history land based casinos were introduced in major cities totaling 30.

The land based casinos still exist today, with popular establishments like Mayfair casino, Golden key casino and Senator Casino in Mombasa adorning the scene.

Here the favorite games are blackjack, poker, roulette and plenty of slot machines. Unlike the online gambling market, the land based casinos are less popular with the majority being frequented by tourists.

For the most part gambling was relegated to this high-end establishment or informal settings where players would bet on darts, or cards. Kenyans would also try their luck on various lotteries like the Kenya Charity Sweepstake.

The lottery cards are popular among the poor as they are offered in low denominations and with booths spread out across the country. However, the gambling industry experienced a complete shift towards the beginning of the 21st century.

The Kenya gambling market was a sleeping giant until mobile money changed the whole sector into one of the biggest in Africa.

It all started slowly, fast with the introduction of fast internet connection which meant players could turn their mobile phones into mini computers. Kenya boasts some of the fastest internet speeds in the continent with an average of 13.7 Mbs.

With more than 50% of the population accessing the internet through their mobile phone the market was ripe for the next factor that would explode Kenya’s betting sector into the global scene – mobile money.

The combination of high unemployment rates among the youth, soaring inflation rates and the ease of mobile money meant the betting industry was ripe for disruption. Safaricom is by far Kenya's leading mobile service provider.

When it started it offered affordable calling charges which made it a darling for many poor people. However, it is the introduction of Mpesa (mobile money exchange platform) that was the catalyst for the explosion of online betting sites in Kenya.

All of a sudden, punters could wager bets on their mobile phones, make payments without needing a bank account and then withdraw their winnings instantly. To many this was too thrilling to be true and an explosion of online betting sites emerged.

Players also no longer needed to travel far to access the big land based casinos; they could simply wager on all their favorite games right on their mobile screens.

However, this explosion posed a challenge as many betters started treating gambling as a source of income instead of a means of entertainment. It is not unusual to find punters wagering all their earnings on a popular English Premier Game.

To chastise Safaricom for the ills in the online betting scene in Kenya is a case of throwing the baby with the bath water. Safaricom boasts over 30 million active Mpesa users with the company contributing 6% of Kenya’s GDP as of 2020.

The company has solely been responsible for penetrating the largely unbanked population in Kenya.

According to a survey done by US research firm GeoPoll over 72% of respondents polled in Africa said they have participated in some form of gambling or betting.

Kenya leads with over 84% of respondents saying they have tried gambling with Nigeria at 74% and South Africa 74%. With such a large number of bettors it is no wonder that regulators are trying to find ways to control the industry.

The Kenyan gambling market is vast with an estimated value of $40 million (2020). The betting scene is mainly dominated by sport betting with the English premier league being the most popular sport. Most of the gamblers are young (18-30) with most coming from low income households.

According to financial data from Mobile money powerhouse Safaricom, Kenyan gamblers placed bets worth Kshs 463 million daily through their Mpesa platform in the financial year ended March 2022.

This translated to the telecom company collecting Kshs.169.1 billion from betting against Kshs.136.6 collected in the previous financial year.

All this was against a frustrating betting environment characterized by increased taxes, curbs on advertising, high cost of living and the Covid 19 epidemic.

Safaricom financial statements for the same financial year ending March 20202 also revealed an increase of 39.3% of betting transactions on Mpesa from 526.6 million to 732.3 million.

For decades the law that regulated gambling in Kenya was the 1966 Betting, Lotteries, and Gambling Act. While sufficient for land based casinos, it was inadequate to handle the explosion that would come from online gambling sites.

This led to the introduction of the betting Act of 2013. With this piece of legislation, regulators under the Betting Control and Licensing Board were able to give opportunity to the mushrooming online betting sites.

The new Gambling Act of 2020 is another piece of legislation that is being put in place to regulate gambling in Kenya. The betting tax will remain the same but there is a proposal to impose a 35% tax on gaming advertisements.

Online betting firms desiring to join the Kenya market will be required to pay 900,000 Euros for a license while those interested in land based casinos pay 450,000 Euros.

The new Gambling Act of 2020 seeks to bring order into Kenya’s betting industry with a raft of measures like the National Gaming Authority will soon replace the BCLB. There is also a proposal to introduce the Gaming Appeals tribunal to adjudicate gambling related disputes.

With the gambling market ranking in millions in revenue the tax authorities also want a piece of the pie. Kenya’s enormous gambling market with a market value of over 20 million dollars is a potential cash cow for the country’s tax authorities.

It is against this that the government plans to table the Finance bill 2022. The bill proposes to increase the current excise tax from the current 7.5% to 20% for betting, gambling, lottery and other prize competitions.

The government intends to collect around 50.4 billion from the excise tax amendments.

However, a previous bill of 2020 did not see the light of day with the Finance and National Planning Committee recommending the tax to remain at 7.5% instead of the proposed 20%. The proposals had led to an exit of some of the top players in the gambling industry like Sportpesa.

The first law in Kenya to support responsible gambling is that it is illegal for persons under the age of 18 years to place bets. BCLB has put in place certain guidelines to curb advertising to minors.

For one gambling companies are required to have their ads approved before they can be put on air or printed. They should also carry some sort of responsible gambling message like the fact gambling is addictive.

The essence is not to glamorize gambling where the majority of the Kenyan youth have taken it as a gateway to untold wealth.

BCLB advertising regulations will see ads run from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. with other times like from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. being slotted for responsible gambling messages. Gambling companies can also run corporate social responsibility activities from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

No advertisements are allowed from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. To control the ads from targeting minors, no ads are allowed during the airing of kid shows, family shows and religious programming.

The regulations also control the ad gambling message by requiring that 20% of it should contain a responsible gambling message.

The onslaught on mushrooming betting sites has also attracted new regulations from the Nairobi county government.

Through the Nairobi City County Betting, Lotteries, and Gaming (Amendment) Bill 2021, the county tries to restrict betting and gambling establishments to operating from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. The county government seeks to place a fine of Sh10 million on persons found liable or imprisonment of up to four years.

The law is geared at curbing the vice of persons placing bets at all times of the day hence not engaging in any meaningful work.

Furthermore the new bill wants to put a leash onto where gambling establishments can be located relegating them to five-star hotels within the CBD.

While the bill is meant to curb access of betting sites by minors it is a move that will frustrate many gambling establishments that are well located in city estates.

The County bill also wants to restrict betting to being cashless as this blocks minors who will need an identity card for them to register with any mobile money platform.

Most online betting firms have had the privilege of using renowned celebrities like popular football legend McDonald Mariga to promote their brands. This is soon going to end with the introduction of the Gambling Act of 2020 as it prohibits ads by celebrities.

With the unemployment rates remaining very high in Kenya, we see no significant decrease in online gambling.

Many gamblers in Kenya still treat gambling as a source of income instead of a form of entertainment with many waiting for their turn to strike it rich. At the moment the industry is estimated to be growing at a rate of 7% a momentum we expect will continue in the foreseeable future.

With a cash strapped government hungry to meet its cash fall we do not see any unexpected tax hikes that will cause players to exit the market.

Kenya has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world at over 85%. With most of the population having access to mobile banking the penetration rates for online betting are expected to remain high with stable regulation.

Online betting is legal in Kenya and with few restrictions players are still much welcomed into the country.

The tax authorities are still adamant in reintroducing the controversial 20% gambling tax through the Finance bill of 2022, a move that will affect the industry in future. For now industry players are holding their breath hoping that the status quo is maintained.

#FeatureByCapriComms

JOIN OUR PULSE COMMUNITY!

Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or:

Email: news@pulselive.co.ke