Kenya is the most advanced economy in eastern and central Africa, and it is thus not a surprise that it is home to a thriving gambling economy. Gambling laws in the country are not new as they came to be in 1966 in the form of the Betting Lotteries and Gaming Act, barely three years since the country got independence from the British. These laws were used to set up the Betting Control and Licensing Board, which works to regulate gambling activities in the country as well as issue licenses to companies which adhere to the stipulated guidelines.
The country is now home to at least eleven bingo halls, three sportsbooks, a horse racing track and tens of casinos spread through the country, with most establishments in Nairobi. These set-ups follow the guidelines set by the Act, and they operate with licenses. The state runs games such as bingo and lotteries, and they have quite a considerable following. Online gaming has become quite popular over the years as more foreign companies introduce their models to the country, and more players develop an interest in placing wagers. The state had launched an online gaming platform, but that did not do as well as the newcomers.
The Government’s Take
The government does try to curtail gambling activities, in a bid to keep the youth from taking part in pursuits, which could derail their career paths. The interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i, with a go-ahead from the President Uhuru Kenyatta, recently began a crackdown on all illegal gambling activities in the country. The secretary's actions saw hundreds of machines get destroyed as he deported foreigners taking part in the unlawful activities. It is clear that as long as a businessperson adheres to the laws stipulated in the Act, they should be fine. As for online gaming, there hasn’t been much interference from the authorities and participants in the industry keep increasing by the day, hoping to rake in the appealing bonuses offered by the different sites.
Since the establishment of the Act in 1966, betting became a legal activity in the country as long as one stuck to the given regulations. People under the age of eighteen are not allowed to take part in bets and cannot take part in promotions and bonuses, or other activities related to placing wagers.
As the betting economy grew, the government thought of reaping revenue from the industry through the imposition of fees amounting to twenty percent of the win. The news was not well-received by both players and service providers in the country, who felt that the rate was quite high. The increase in the tax had led to opposition from betting companies who felt that the cost of operation would be too high under the circumstances and it saw some lotteries close shop while some gaming companies withdrew their local sponsorships in retaliation.
This opposition led to a discussion in parliament before President Uhuru Kenyatta stepped in towards the end of 2018 and recommended that the tax rate should be 15%. In his recommendation, he stated that the tax should be on prize competitions, lotteries, and betting activities which broadened the sources of revenue for the government. With this recommendation in place, people getting money from promotions could end up parting with a chunk of their money. A discussion in Parliament had led to a 35% recommendation, which was a means to deal with the fast-rising gambling habits in the country.
The president, however, refused to sign the bill, and the 15% tax remains to-date.
The main currency used in the country is the shilling and players can pay for wagers through their credit cards, online payment solutions, and MPESA, which is a conventional means of money transfer in the country. Different gaming sites offer different options.
Physical casinos are also popular in the country, with tens of establishments sprawled across the country. Most casinos are in hotels where players can grab a quick bite or drink as they enjoy slots and table games. Nairobi is home to at least twenty casinos featuring over a hundred table games and slot machines.
Kenya ranks among the African countries with the highest number of gamblers, with studies showing that frequent gamblers spend at least fifty dollars a month on wagers. Of the games played, football ranks as the highest sport in which people place wagers, with about 80% of players placing bets on it. Poker, online casinos, and racing games follow close. Interestingly, about ninety percent of wagers take place on mobile phones, which are easily accessible.
There is a need for intervention in gambling in the country as the practice continues to increase at an alarming rate. Parliamentarians and community groups have been quick to point out the need for measures to prevent the youth from sinking deeper into this hole that threatens to swallow them whole. There are tons of cases showing that young people participating in betting are at risk of losing their money and entertaining negative thoughts such as suicide or getting into a life of crime. Addiction is also a problem that many people grapple with, unable to stop even when they lose all they have.
This sector generates billions of shillings each year and is thus thriving, an indication that investors can make it big in the country. However, there are indications that more needs to be done to safeguard future generations from addiction and other gambling-related problems.