As Kenya’s gambling future remains uncertain, attempts to find support at different government levels have had mixed results. Several operators, including SportPesa, Betway and Betin, as well as others, had their licenses suspended at the beginning of July as the country’s Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) suddenly began to rewrite the rulebook. Certain legislators spoke up in support of the companies, but this had little effect on the matter. SportPesa tried to argue its case in court, and a Kenya high court judge has just responded. The outcome does not look good.
SportPesa pleaded with the court to intervene against the BCLB’s and the government’s gambling suspension. It wanted the courts to throw out the BCLB order, as well as another that suspended SMS shortcodes and pay bills. The latter suspension, it argued, was illegal. The company asserted in its lawsuit, “The action of the respondents are only not unreasonable, irrational and highhanded but also clearly amount to deliberate abuse of office and state power to achieve ulterior ends.”
According to local news outlet Daily Nation, Kenya High Court Justice John Mativo couldn’t find legal grounds to support the claims. He threw out the case, explaining, “Even if the court quashes the decision there is no basis the petitioner can operate on an expired license. The claim for damages for alleged loss of business is legally frail. Damages must be pleaded and proven.”
The entire issue comes down to money. Kenya recently decided that the 20% tax on gambling should apply to the amount wagered, not just on the winnings, as had been the interpretation of the tax law for years. As such, gambling operators were suddenly facing huge tax bills for hundreds of millions of dollars in arrears that none wanted to pay.
While initially pouting and stomping its feet over the changes, Betway finally relented and paid what the government wanted. As of last week, it has been able to restart its gambling operations, but for how long is anyone’s guess. Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, reportedly said last week that he would approve a complete ban on gambling if lawmakers drafted up the legislation.