Nearly a year has passed since Kenya’s Gaming Bill 2019 was enacted, but how successful has it been? A close look at how the Bill has been implemented.
Kenya’s revised Gaming Bill came into effect the 31st of May 2019. The intention behind the new legislation was to protect players, collect taxes more effectively, ensure economic growth and guard against underage betting. Now, close to a year later, has the Bill fulfilled its aims?
A Bill Based on Moralist Arguments
Sports betting had been present in Kenya for some time, but five years ago it began growing at an exponential rate. Smartphones, mobile money transfer options and cheap mobile data transformed the industry and gambling became a regular pastime for millions of Kenyans. By 2019, concerns over operator corruption, underage players and gambling addiction were rife.
Peter Mbugi, Chief Executive Officer of Kenya’s Betting Control and Licensing Board – BCLB – remembers that betting in the country was rife and chaotic. He says the craze, as he calls it, was serious and cut across all sectors. There is a popular belief that gambling leads to idleness, and the BCLB felt that something had to be done to avoid such a nationally despised characteristic from becoming more widespread.
The idealistic rules in the Gaming Bill have not been fully implemented. For instance, the severe restriction on Kenyan television advertisements for sports betting have been in place since mid-2019, but bettors are still bombarded with marketing campaigns.
Offshore sportsbooks have major sponsorship deals with high-profile sports teams, including the NFL which has just started official negotiations, and their branding is prominently displayed on sports kits and venues. Every time Kenyans watch international sporting events, they are subject to these promotions.
Effect on Games of Chance
Games of chance, such as lotteries and most casino games, involve less skill and insight than sports betting. Before the Gaming Bill, slot machines were found in almost every village in Kenya, and were incredibly popular because of their low betting limits and lack of age restriction. The harsh measures have lowered the incidence of slot machines and other games since 2019, to a degree, but they remain very commonplace.
The government’s attempts to curb sports betting and implement the regulations set down in the Gaming Bill have been largely punitive. The leaders in Kenya’s online bookmaker industry were shut down, with their licences suspended as they were required to reapply for permits.
Some operators’ websites were actually blocked in Kenya, and mobile money paybill numbers were forced to close. Since mobile payments are the way most bettors make deposits into their accounts, this effectively crippled their operations.
Difficult to Win Payouts
The Gaming Bill doesn’t only make life difficult for betting operators, but also for their customers. The high taxes, including a 17% tariff on all stakes and another 20% payment required on wins, have put off many consumers. In certain cases, the high taxes actually result in financial losses even when someone wins their wagers.
Poor Overall Execution
The general feeling among industry insiders and bettors themselves is that the Kenyan government did have reasonable grounds to control excessive gambling, but that the crackdown was executed poorly.
With a very moralistic viewpoint, lawmakers were unable to see the differences between sports betting and games of chance. They put very harsh measures in place to control all of them, and in the process brought down reputable operators who were contributing to sport and social development, and were making positive contributions to the economy. In the process, close to a thousand jobs have been lost – and so has much-needed tax revenue.
In addition, while the measures have reduced overall gambling in Kenya, the activity is still very widespread. Simply put, the legislation may need to be reviewed and amended. The question now is whether the government will make necessary adjustments or stick stubbornly with what they have now