Uganda Institutes New Anti-Money Laundering Measures
Regulatory uncertainties continue to plague Uganda’s gambling industry, but the country has moved forward on stricter anti-money laundering (AML) legislation. Recently the Ugandan Financial Intelligence Agency, or FIA, highlighted the fact that the revenue from criminal activities is being laundered through the county’s real estate and gambling sectors.
Current Gambling Taxes
Right now, Uganda has 14 licensed land-based casinos. All of them are partly owned by foreign companies in China, Israel or Russia. There are also 5 legal online casinos and 40 legitimate sports betting facilities in the country.
The number of unlicensed gambling venues in unknown, but is believed to be very high. From July 2018 to March 2019, the Uganda revenue Authority’s acting communications director Rita Muzira says that UGX20 billion was collected from land-based establishments. This is the equivalent of $5.4 billion, but it could be much higher.
Rather than being reinvested back into the country to benefit ordinary citizens, about UGX5 trillion ($1.4 billion) is being lost to money laundering and going back into criminals’ pockets, says FIA Director of International Relations and Strategic Analysis.
This estimate is based on the fact that countries around the world lose 2% to 5% of their GDP to laundering activities every year. A new FIA study has been commissioned to determine exactly how much money is lost this way.
In January 2019 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni issued a directive that prohibited the issuing of any more gambling and sports betting licences. Financial Minister Matia Kasaija carried this out in late May, writing a letter to the NGBU (National Gaming Board Uganda) with instructions that no new licences be awarded.
The letter also stipulated that existing licenses be allowed to lapse. The policy, as Kasaija later clarified, was specifically aimed at foreign sports betting operators who were taking large amounts of capital out of the country. Although further directives on the future of sportsbooks and casinos have not yet been issued, more action has been taken to stem money laundering.
The New AML System
Edgar Agaba, Chief Executive Officer of the NGBU, says that his organisation has worked closely with FIA to detect money laundering for some time. However, until recently their efforts were hindered by a lack of appropriate technology. An Automated Central Monitoring System, or ACMS, could finally change that.
The ACMS was introduced in August 2019 and is worth UGX10 billion or about $2.7 billion. The system will be able to monitor gambling transactions across the country. As Agaba explained, all casinos within Uganda will be monitored. Criminals who might be laundering cash will be watched, and the frequency of their betting activities and wins will be noted.
Agaba added that the ACMS should help to increase gambling sector tax revenues by an estimated UGX45 billion – UGX60 billion per year. National Gambling Board Uganda chair, Manzi Tumubweine, said the NGBU is waiting for further policy guidance and advice from the Ministry of Finance.
Additional AML protocols are also planned for the future, to help reclaim even more of the country’s capital. As Muzira asserted, Uganda needs the right tools, technology and capacity development to protect its funds.