Kenya Looks To Ban Mobile Gambling – But Why?


Last week, Kenya declared war on companies who operate online and mobile betting platforms within the country. Having debated legislation around the issues for months, the Government has taken the significantly more aggressive step of ordering the directors of seventeen betting firms to be deported from the country. The deportation of the affected directors is only possible because they’re foreign nationals, but the few Kenyan citizens who hold senior positions within gambling companies may also have reason to worry. 

It’s the second major anti-gambling act by the Government in two weeks, following in from an executive order made to Safaricom which prevents the telecoms company from processing or hosting any payments which relate to internet-based sports betting companies, mobile slots providers. Going further back, in May the Government implemented a ban on advertising online or on billboards by all companies linked to gambling, whether they’re traditional casinos, sports betting firms, or mobile slots operators. This is despite the fact that the revenue generated by the industry has increased by almost two billion shillings in the past five years, with taxes being collected on that revenue. 

The news will be seen as a bad omen by the nineteen companies currently waiting to find out of their licenses will be renewed, after their applications were put on hold earlier in the year. The reason given at the time the delay was announced was that the interior ministry wished to carry out closer vetting of the internal structures of the affected firms, and how their shareholding proposal worked. In light of what’s happened since, it now seems more likely that the refusal to decline the licenses is symptomatic of a strong swing against gambling within Kenya by the central Government. 

SportPesa CEO during one of the partnerships

What The Law Says

While the rights of gamblers and casinos within the country are – for now at least – protected by the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act of 1966. The wording of the act never envisaged the emerging market for mobile betting, though. Mobile slots are now preferred to UK online slots in many cases, with players using online slots playing a significant role in online gaming website such as Rose Slots becoming one of the worst’s fastest rising industries during 2019. Many players enjoy UK slots so much because they give access to a huge range of games from one device, in any location. Now, mobile slots players in Kenya may soon find that not only is their choice severely restricted; they may have nowhere left to play at all. 

At the time of writing, a new Gaming Bill aimed to appeal and replace its 1966 predecessor is working its way through Parliament, and if approved could have implications for land-based casinos as well as online betting platforms. Perhaps more worryingly for mobile slots players or people who use their mobile devices to place bets in general, there’s a proposed fine of two million shillings accounted for within the bill for anybody caught placing a wager using a mobile device. Providing a platform to place such a bet would be viewed as an even more serious offense, with the maximum proposed fine that could be levied against a business enabling betting set at fifty million shillings. 

The wording of the new bill could not be any more explicit in its view of mobile slots and mobile betting applications. It prohibits any person in Kenya from using telecommunication platforms for any form of online games. While it goes on to specifically refer to casino games, betting, and lotteries, it also mentions ‘other forms of online gaming.’ Critics of the bill are keen to point to two issues with the text; firstly, it could be used to prohibit playing any games at all on the internet whether money changes hands or not, and secondly, it could be used to prevent tourists and foreign visitors from doing the same. 

Anybody hoping to circumvent the proposed new law using proxy servers or similar technology is also targeted by the bill. It calls for the Communications Authority of Kenya to be granted the power to ensure ‘foreign operators’ cannot offer gaming services within the country, and cannot target any resident of Kenya with advertising or means of access. This would be a broad and sweeping power, and could see entire portions of the internet closed off to Kenyans if the Government deems them inappropriate or undesirable. The fact that a new agency with the power to monitor mobile communications with a view to identifying gambling transactions is also being proposed will be met with horror by privacy campaigners. 

Gloomy Prospects For Revenue And Jobs

While there is support for the idea of curbing online problem gambling, critics of the bill point out that by wholly prohibiting the activity might amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the possible impact it could have on jobs and revenues within the company. Global gaming revenue is currently increasing by over sixteen billion dollars every year, and is projected to continue doing so well into the 2020s. Where companies make a profit, there’s tax revenue for the Government. Where citizens make money from gambling, there’s also the potential to tax that income without blocking citizens from taking part in the activity at all. 

On top of that, such is the current size of the mobile gaming market in Kenya that it’s currently believed to employ more than five thousand people within the country. If the hobby were to be banned entirely, all five thousand of those people would be seeking new employment, and it’s not currently clear where replacement jobs could be found from on that scale. Cutting revenue and cutting the number of people in paid work may not be viewed as the most practical solution for dealing with a perceived gambling problem; especially if it has a detrimental impact on the performance of a delicate economy. 

Sport pesa CEO

If the new Gaming Bill makes it through Parliament, it might be the case that mobile slots players are no longer able to enjoy their hobby, but it might be the Government themselves who turn out to be taking the most significant gamble of them all.