The governing body for betting and gambling in Ethiopia, the National Lottery Administration, has announced stricter regulations for operators. With continual growth over recent years, several measures have been put in place. These measures are largely deemed crucial.

The National Lottery Administration recently approved new directives outlining stricter requirements and standards for the betting industry. All active operators are now required to make a deposit of 1.5 million ETB in bank guarantees. They are also no longer permitted to pay out more than one million ETB to winners. Permit fees were also made higher, now costing 500,000 ETB, with a 100,000 ETB annual renewal cost. Furthermore, the legal gambling age limit has increased to 21 years old.

Call for More Regulation

Regulation of online sports betting and casino gaming has increasingly been called for in recent years. As the popularity of the top betting brands and platforms continues to soar, the market continues to become ever-more fertile. For investors and entrepreneurs, though also illegal betting activity and rising debt. Though it has called forever tighter restrictions, Ethiopia’s betting industry boom shows no sign of slowing down.

This is despite the situation in the country’s northern city of Bahir Dar, where all betting operations were ordered to shut down. The city administration enacted the measures to address what it reports as “security threats”. This has caused several betting companies, around fifty branches, to shut down in the city. The Bahir Dar city administration has further ordered the closure of all billiard halls in the region.

The National Lottery Administration claims that the exact details surrounding the closures are not yet clear. Dessie Dejene, director of licensing and regulation, alleges to have received no direct complaints. From betting companies or regional administration. He also says they can see no grounds for the closures for businesses, who all seem to have the required permits and authorization. He went on to point out that sports betting should not be confused with illegal betting.

Similar crackdowns have taken place in the Amhara region over the past month though. As many khat and hookah establishments were forced to close. The local administration of the towns of Dessie and Gondier stated the reasons being that gambling is corrupting their youth. Other reasons have to do with the establishments being used as “hotspots” for propaganda concerning the ongoing civil war in Northern Ethiopia. The mayor of Bahir Dar, Dresse Sahilu (Ph.D.), says the “security threats” are mainly to with youths fighting, claiming sports betting to be the cause.

It is yet unclear when betting operations will be able to resume in the area. The city administration of Bahir Dar has further prohibited the carrying of weapons within city limits. Restrictions on military training and activities, and well as bars and trading centers have been imposed.

Mayor Dresse Sahilu believes these measures to be necessary to keep the peace in the region. He added that once the region is stabilized, they may consider relaxing the restrictions.

Unclear Closures

Operators remain perplexed and angered by the closures. Many were closed only weeks after complying with the new regulations. Like the National Lottery Administration, they were also not given clear reasons or prior notice. Many operators intend to appeal to the authorities. 

Regional and city government does, by law, reserve the right to stop any local operations it deems a threat. This is according to a legal expert and part-time lecturer at Addis Ababa University, Liku Worku. Thus, it will remain to be seen if there will be any immediate solution.

The closures in the Amhara region do quite not fit the reports of “security threats”, says Worku. Online betting can be done anywhere, and not just at establishments. He thinks that it has likely more to do with youths watching sports in groups than the betting itself. Otherwise, much of it can be attributed to the ongoing conflict in the region. Tensions are high, and this has made local authorities cautious. Sports betting throughout the country has become especially popular amongst the youth. With much of the youth seeing it as a way to escape poverty. As a result, the age limit was imposed to stem the tide of the young poor people affected by gambling debt.

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