Africa is a vast continent, containing 54 sovereign states and full of unique cultures heritages. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the many countries it contains have contrasting attitudes to gambling. These range from the very restrictive, such as Egypt, to the pretty relaxed, like Nigeria.
Today we’re looking at Kenya’s gambling industry – its past, present and future. Where does the nation of Kenya stand on the rights of its adult population to indulge in some of their favourite gambling pastimes?
While gambling is broadly accepted as a key component of Kenya’s culture, the government has attempted to curtail it in recent years. Let’s get under the skin of this some more and speculate whether the laws may shift in gamblers’ favour any time soon.
Gambling laws in Kenya
Much of the gambling activity in Kenya, with the notable exception of land-based casinos, is run as a government monopoly. The current era of gambling in Kenya came into force over 50 years ago in 1966, with the introduction of the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act. Prior to this, all forms of gambling were illegal, illustrating just how big a shift in mindset the nation underwent.
The Act established a body, called the Betting Control and Licensing Board. To this day, they’re responsible for issuing operating licences and ensuring their business are run in a fair and proper manner. The Board also oversees the regulation of all forms of gambling, including casinos, bingo halls, horseracing and online gambling.
Until relatively recently, there was a state-run online casino called betkenya.com. However, the site suddenly disappeared, leaving 15 million online gamblers across the nation with little choice but to use foreign gaming sites.
Compared to some countries in Africa, Kenya’s approach to online gaming is relatively relaxed. In contrast, South Africa’s laws are rather draconian, imposing penalties of up to 10,000 rand for those caught gambling online.
Kenyans, however, are free to play their favourite games wherever they want. They often choosing to play engaging casino and slots games run by gambling operators in the UK – a country where gambling is flourishing as an industry. In the UK, all gambling activity is governed by the Gambling Commission, which imposes strict rules and regulations on all gambling operators – both online and offline.
It’s an arrangement that’s suited the operators, which have been able to grow as organisations thanks to the huge number of players in the UK market – and the government, which is making around £15 billion in tax revenues to reinvest into schools, transport and hospitals. It’s also suited players themselves, who can play at the most exciting online casino in the UK anywhere, anytime and using any device.
The perfect storm
There are several reasons why online gambling is so popular in Kenya. The nation’s unique position in the continent of Africa is one. It benefits from the many advantages it has over its less developed neighbours, like Ethiopia, Sudan and South Somalia.
The first and foremost, Kenya has the most advanced economy of any East African nation. There’s a strong correlation between the amount of money people have available to them and their propensity to spend at least some of their leisure time gambling. Other worldwide examples of this include the US, where it’s estimated that in 2017, their casino industry reached astronomical revenues of over $40 billion.
The second key factor is that apart from the 6.5 million inhabitants of Nairobi, the 45 million-strong population of the country are widely dispersed across its 580,000 square kilometres. This means that the vast majority don’t have easy access to land-based forms of gambling. Fortunately for them, the technology is in place for them to enjoy an online alternative that’s just as good as the real thing.
Of Kenya’s population, it’s estimated that around 30 million have access to a mobile phone, for many the preferred way to surf online. It’s for this reason that all the world’s best online casinos have fully-optimized mobile sites, to replicate as closely as possible the experience of playing on a PC.
The other piece of the jigsaw that fits very neatly into place is the superb level of service that internet providers offer in Kenya. One surprising fact is that in terms of data speeds, not only does Kenya lead the way in Africa, it also beats the US by a considerable margin. For example, Zuku is the most popular internet service provider (ISP) in the country and advertises that it can offer speeds of between four and 60Mbps – with a great record of reliability.
Almost wherever a player may be, they can rely on a fast and efficient internet service, one that is vital to anyone wanting a smooth and uninterrupted online gambling experience.
The economic advantages
With regards to whether the authorities should be encouraging greater participation in all gambling, both online and offline, there’s a strong financial argument for even greater liberalization. This is because the revenues that taxes could generate have the potential to make a significant contribution to the nation’s economy.
However, before this comes to pass, there are several hurdles to be negotiated in terms of the collection of said taxes. This comes in the wake of the Witholding Tax, which was introduced in 2013 with the aim of claiming 20% of the profits gamblers make when playing lotteries, gambling or winning raffles.
Though this seemed an effective way to harness the financial strength of the Kenyan gambling industry, various loopholes in the law have meant that problems have arisen in collecting the tax. Until these have been ironed out it looks like the government will have its work cut out in trying to claim their share in what is estimated to be a $50 million sector.
One way that has been suggested to take away the tax penalty from players, is by taxing the operators themselves, taking a portion of their revenues. This may encourage players even further and provide a more official and efficient way of capitalizing on the success of gambling in Kenya.
Expect to see even greater liberalization of the Kenyan online gambling industry in the future – and even greater efforts by the government to claim the tax revenue that it will undoubtedly generate as it expands.