The last two years have been very challenging for the Kenyan betting scene, with the betting authorities coming down very hard on operators in the country.
If Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta had his way, sports betting would be completely banned in Kenya, but rather than implementing those extreme measures, the government has imposed some very hostile tax laws on betting companies in Kenya.
Kenya’s tough stance on sports betting is a double-edged sword, aimed at cutting down the rate of betting in the country, and at the same time, pulling revenue for the government.
As of May 2019, just before the government imposed new tax laws on betting companies, leaked data showed that Kenyans wagered more than Ksh. 30 billion on sports betting in a single month!
Soon after those figures were leaked, Kenyan authorities moved swiftly into action. The main gambling regulatory body, the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB), ceased the licenses of over 20 betting operators, including those of heavyweights, SportPesa and Betin, due to alleged tax infringements.
After several legal tussles, Kenya’s top bookmaker at the time, SportPesa eventually closed down their business in Kenya, citing the hostile environment as the main reason behind their decision.
Their attempts at a comeback have been met with strong resistance from Kenya’s tax authorities.
Despite SportPesa’s problems, betting continues to thrive in the country. There are still a lot of betting sites in Kenya, operating legally with licenses from the BCLB.
In SportPesa’s absence, betting sites like Betika, Odibets and Betway have risen to become the main players in the market.
Along with South Africa and Nigeria, Kenya remains one of the top three betting markets in Africa.
In terms of market size, Kenya has the third biggest gambling market in sub-Saharan Africa, which is perfectly understandable given that Nigeria and South Africa have bigger populations, but Kenya has the highest number of young gamblers in the sub-region.
It is easy to see why betting is very popular in Kenya.
The East African nation has a sports-loving population, which naturally extends into passion for sports betting. There is also the appeal of making money from online sports betting, which draws Kenya’s young population.
The impact of technology cannot be overlooked. When it comes to digitization, Kenya is amongst the top nations in sub-Saharan Africa.
With more people now having access to mobile phones and quality internet connection, online activities like sports betting are being exponentially propagated.
Not only can people access betting sites on their mobile phones, they can also deposit and withdraw money from these sites without any hassles. Financial inclusion in Kenya has never been better, with the advent and popularity of mobile money networks like M-Pesa making life infinitely easier for Kenyans.
Betting companies have tapped into the mobile money surge in Kenya, with most of the active sites having M-Pesa and Airtel payments as part of their deposit options.
The relationship between Kenyan authorities and betting operators in the country continues to be volatile, with the constant threat of tougher tax laws hanging in the air, but as has been the case over the last couple of years, sports betting will find a way to survive!