Kenyan sports betting operator SportPesa insists that rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, regardless of what the local government might have bettors believe.
On Thursday, SportPesa’s official social media channels issued a statement saying the company “wishes to refute claims that our business is closing down. We are in discussions with the government and relevant stakeholders and are positive that we will be back to full operation soon. Note that any update regarding our business is communicated through our channels.”
SportPesa was among the several dozen gaming firms whose licenses were either suspended or revoked on July 1 by Kenya’s Betting Licensing and Control Board (BCLB). The government has accused these operators of either failing to pay their taxes — a claim the operators reject — or some other failure to comply with the terms of their licenses.
Some of the larger companies affected by this crackdown have gone to court and were granted stays of their license suspensions. But the government ordered local telecom giants to suspend the operators digital payment processing options, effectively leaving the sites with no way to interact with their customers.
Caught in the middle of this fight are Kenyan gamblers, many of whom are now being bombarded by promotional come-ons by operators whose licenses haven’t been suspended (at least, not yet).
A Geopoll-Ipsos survey found that a majority of bettors were displeased with the government’s decision to disrupt their chosen form of entertainment. Moreover, it found that at least one-quarter of these bettors whose favorite site was now off-limits said they would simply bet somewhere else.
Not everyone outside of government is unhappy with the crackdown. Ricardo Badoer, owner of the Wazito football club that recently won promotion to the Kenyan Premier League, used his Twitter feed to say he was “against gambling and it should be banned.” Badoer mocked his league counterparts for relying on “income from betting firms” like SportPesa while repeating his pledge that Wazito “will never be having betting firm sponsership [sic].”
Meanwhile, the attention sparked by the crackdown has led UK newspaper the Guardian to start asking if SportPesa’s UK-facing operation – a white-label site that piggybacks on the Isle of Man-based TGP Europe’s UK gambling license – is paying enough taxes to the UK government. Never rains but it pours…