Kenya ousted some of its biggest online bookmakers in 2019, with strict new regulations. Was that just to clear the way for new operators and if so, why?

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Source: Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Amid Kenya’s harsh crackdowns on sports betting giants SportPesa and Betin, the country has licensed several industry newcomers. This has prompted the theory that the government may have been deliberately trying to crash the two stakeholders’ monopoly on the gambling sector.

How Kenya Brought Major Bookmakers Down

Until September 2019, Betin and SportPesa controlled a combined total of 85% of Kenya’s gambling industry. When new taxation laws were imposed, the government accused the betting behemoths of not complying with the regime changes.

A 20% Excise Duty was also imposed on all wagers that were placed, and the firms were also blamed for fuelling money-laundering and promoting moral decay across the Kenyan nation. Following protracted legal disputes with the state, the betting operators closed their doors. 

Serious Economic Fallout

When SportPesa and Betin shut up shop, the economic effect on thousands of Kenyans was considerable. Not only did some bettors lose money that was still being held in their betting site accounts, but local sporting clubs saw valuable sponsorship deals cancelled.

In addition, the firms sustained thousands of employees, whose have now lost their jobs. Smaller sportsbooks including Betpawa, Premierbet, Cysabet and Elitebet were forced to close too, and this impact has also been felt keenly.

New Firms on the Block

Even with the accusations of compliance failures and “promotion of moral decay”, the Betting Control and Licencing Board continues to issue permits. Active bookmakers in the country now number over 30, and newcomers include Triple5 Bet, Bet254, 22bet and Flooks. 

Their entry into the market at the same time as the authorities’ crackdown, and the scrapping of the punitive Excise Taxation with President Kenyatta’s signing of the 2020 Finance Bill in June and has led some insiders to conclude all these actions were taken to force established operators out.

The question being asked most frequently by insiders now is, why the authorities would take these actions and what they’re planning. There is still hope that some of the operators will return to the market, but whatever developments happen next remain to be seen.

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