Kenya’s sports betting market was generating monthly turnover of US$281m before the government’s ill-advised 2019 decision to ‘get tough’ with bookmakers.
On Monday, local media outlet The Nation reported seeing leaked Betting Control & Licensing Board (BCLB) data detailing Kenyan-licensed bookmakers’ revenue declarations for May 2019, immediately prior to the government issuing dubious back-tax demands to BCLB betting licensees.
The BCLB data reportedly shows market-wide turnover of over Ksh30b ($280.9m) in May 2019, encompassing some 180m individual wagers. That averages out to roughly Ksh167 ($1.56) per wager, in a country where the average monthly income is around Ksh12k.
The figures include both online and retail betting figures, but a source told The Nation that the retail figures, which lack the digital trail that allows the BCLB to verify the online operators’ filings, were likely to be seriously under-reported, meaning the overall turnover figure could be much higher.
The current betting turnover figures can only be guessed at but will most likely have taken a significant tumble, based on the pandemic-related suspension of major sports. But Business Daily reported Monday that Betika had just enjoyed its best betting weekend since the pandemic began, largely due to the resumption of Germany’s Bundesliga football.
That said, it remains to be seen how many local punters will continue to avoid locally licensed bookmakers, which are now required to deduct the 20% tax from punters’ winnings before paying out.
Kenyan-licensed operators repeatedly warned the government that imposing this tax would only encourage punters to seek out the more cost-effective options available from internationally licensed betting operators not holding a BCLB license.
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SportPesa, which closed its market-leading Kenyan operations last year after the government accused it of owing billions of shillings in back taxes, reportedly claimed around two-thirds (Ksh20b) of the May 2019 turnover figure.
Betin, which also featured prominently in the government’s attacks on the betting sector, reportedly claimed around one-fifth (Ksh6b) of that monthly turnover. Betika was a distant third with turnover of Ksh1.45b, with Betpawa and Sportybet rounding out the top-five.
Of those top-three bookies, Betika is the only one still operating in Kenya after agreeing to apply the government’s interpretation of the 20% withholding tax on customer winnings, which was largely responsible for starting the war between government and industry.
SportPesa’s withdrawal from Kenya was preceded by its suspension of its sponsorship of local sports bodies, which dealt a serious blow to the finances of these teams and leagues. Betika has attempted to fill this void by pledging Ksh15m in support of local sport.
On Monday, Kenyan media reported that a collection of Kenyan betting operators – including 1xBet, Betway and Dafabet – had pledged a further Ksh5m for local sport. The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage thanked the operators for their help “at this very crucial time.” Betway CEO Leon Kiptum said his group was “glad to plug into this noble course to alleviate the suffering of our sportspersons.”