Kenya’s leading sports betting operator SportPesa has been told it needs to apply for a new gaming license if it wishes to resume operations in the country.
On Thursday, the Daily Nation quoted Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) acting director Peter Mbugi saying SportPesa “should apply afresh for a license” after its operations were suspended in July.
Mbugi added that the BCLB would “scrutinize the firm’s license application after it’s made and make a decision on this just like we have done for many others.” SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri has yet to publicly comment on Mbugi’s statement.
SportPesa was one of 27 betting operators whose licenses were suspended by the BCLB due to allegations of unpaid taxes. The dispute centered on the government’s view that the 20% tax on punters’ winnings included the stakes returned to the punter – effectively making it a tax on betting turnover – while operators held that the tax applied only to actual winnings.
Earlier this month, SportPesa announced that its digital relaunch was imminent after coming to terms with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), but Thursday’s announcement suggests sports bettors may have to wait a while longer before the market leader is back in business.
The suspended licensees had their digital payment channels suspended on the government’s order, and while some legislators offered their support, the government proved unwilling to budge. In late August, Betway announced that its Kenyan license had been reinstated after agreeing to implement the government’s view of the 20% tax.
Throughout this whole brouhaha, the government has chosen to apply a fig leaf of morality to its targeting of the betting sector, claiming that it was only looking to protect Kenyan youth from unscrupulous betting operators. Some legislators have accused the government of playing favorites, as several betting operators were allowed to continue operating while the others were shuttered.
One of these favored operators, Odibets, has been inundating Kenyan media with advertorials in recent weeks promoting itself as the only game in town. One of these marketing pitches that appeared just this week tells punters that in-play or ‘live’ betting means “it’s easier to win” money than via pre-match betting. Remember: these are the guys the government likes.