Kenya goverment urged to replace private betting with state lottery

Kenya’s sports betting operators could find themselves out of business if the government listens to the recommendations contained in a new report.

This week, Kenya’s government unveiled a report from the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which last year was tasked with seeking public opinion on nine thematic areas identified by President Uhuru Kenyatta. These areas included corruption, safety and security, rights and responsibilities and the ‘lack of national ethos.’

Among the BBI’s observations is that “the private betting industry is leading to hopelessness and greater poverty.” The BBI recommends that betting operators “be replaced with a government-run national lottery whose proceeds, as is the case in other countries, are used for activities that uplift the youth, sports, culture and other social activities beneficial to citizens.”

The BBI’s recommendations aren’t binding, although disrupting Kenya’s betting sector would seem to be perfectly aligned with the government’s current stance. The country’s two biggest bookmakers – SportPesa and Betin – both recently closed their Kenyan operations after their licenses were suspended amid a fight over how to apply the government’s new 20% tax on betting winnings.

A tax court recently sided with the operators that the tax applied only to actual betting winnings, not to the original betting stake. But the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) quickly announced it would challenge this ruling, injecting still more uncertainty into the situation.

Last Friday, the KRA doubled down on its tax interpretation by ordering all active betting operators to apply the 20% tax to betting stakes and to list the tax on customers’ betting slips. The KRA warned that non-compliance with this order “will attract tax recovery measures as provided for in the Tax Procedures Act.

The KRA launched its war against bookmakers earlier this year by announcing that the sector was in arrears to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Operators disputed this assessment, leading to the suspension of 27 operators’ licenses and payment processing channels.

President Kenyatta has yet to reveal to what extent he intends to implement the BBI’s recommendations, although the public will reportedly be given a say via a referendum vote. However, Kenyatta said in August that he was willing to sign a blanket ban on all gambling products if legislators were to present him with such a document, so the wrecking ball’s in your court, parliament.


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