Kenya Clamps Down On Gambling Permits

Cancelled Kenyan Gambling Licenses Cause Uproar

Kenya’s Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) have refused to renew the operating permits for nineteen gambling firms. Licence renewals for thirteen other casinos, eight sportsbooks and six lotteries also hang in the balance, having been deferred to a later date. This essentially gives them a grace period to comply with regulations, including paying all outstanding taxes. And for now it seems like local favourite, Betin, is on safe waters.

The regulatory body explained that renewed licences are contingent upon operators and their directors being approved in an increasingly rigorous security vetting process. Annual gambling permits are issued at the end of June each year, and firms must now undergo fresh scrutiny and vetting procedures under a directive issued on 1 April 2019 by Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

Shaking Up Kenya’s Gambling Industry

Like several African countries, Kenya’s gambling industry is currently in a state of flux. The Gaming Bill 2019 was unveiled in May; calling for increased regulatory fees and local ownership requirements, lower minimum bets and other reforms.

The original Bill proposed that the BCLB be replaced with the National Gaming Authority, which would more closely reflect the state of the casino and sports betting industry in 2019. While it now appears unclear whether this will happen or not, in the meantime the BCLB is proceeding with its own enforcement of the strict new operator rules in Kenya.

Measures to Enforce Regulations

Essentially, the regulations are intended to create more revenue for the government through increased enforcement of taxation, and to protect players by enforcing stricter security measures. In light of that, the deferral of renewed licenses for the unnamed casino, sportsbook and lottery operators is understandable – if they are able to comply, the government will be able to take in more tax.

In their statement on their licence refusals, the Board explained that it was working with government agencies and would conduct sustained vetting of all licensees. Each operator will now face a quarterly review and the BCLB stated that it would “not hesitate” to debar any who were non-compliant in any way. Brands like Betin Kenya that are licensed, regulated and above board are not considered at risk, but there are several other less reputable brands that are.

In addition to the quarterly review, a cumulative assessment will be used to decide if a firm qualifies for renewal when their current licence expires. Among other factors, the investigations check that the operator is authorised in the country where their business is located, their financial status, their reputation, and the qualifications and experience of their directors.

Consequences If Laws Are Disobeyed

Besides not having their licences renewed, individuals and online gambling firms face other punishments if they fail to follow the new regulations. Providing false declarations can result in a fine of as much as Sh500, 000, incarceration for up to 6 months, or both.

Dr Matiang’i has accused betting operators of owing Sh26 billion in taxes to the Kenyan Revenue Authority and though some of these allegations have been challenged, the government clearly stands to reclaim some tax funds.

While the measures described are to regulate and ultimately support the gambling industry, culling nineteen companies could also result in substantial job losses, which could negatively affect individuals and lead to problem behaviours. As is now always the case, it seems, betting legislation is a fine balancing act. The authorities in Kenya are no doubt hoping they will be able to get it right.

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