Located on the coastline of the Indian Ocean in East Africa, the equatorial nation of Kenya is home to about 45 million citizens. The nation enjoys the largest economy in the region, with a variety of successful industries: the capital city of Nairobi is a major commercial hub, while agricultural exports of tea, coffee, and a thriving service sector are also key contributors.
While the nation is still far from wealthy by worldwide standards, Kenyans do enjoy a higher standard of living than many of their neighboring nations. It is also a nation that loves sports, including long distance running, where the country has proven to be a dominant force in world-class competition. Cricket, rugby, and volleyball are also quite popular here.
Given these factors, it makes perfect sense that betting on sports has become a popular pastime in Kenya. According to recent estimates, the bookmaking industry enjoys an annual gross turnover of at least $20 million, with expectations being that it will grow to $50 million in the next few years, in particular due to the growth of mobile betting. With a liberal regulatory environment in place, it’s likely that this will continue to be one of the most vibrant gambling markets in Africa for many years to come.
Gamblers in Kenya have little trouble finding ways to place a bet, either when it comes to visiting a live sportsbook or an online betting site. There are nearly 30 different bookmakers who are licensed to operate in Kenya, with many of these firms also running casinos in the nation’s urban centers.
Regulated online sports betting began in the country back in 2013, when SportPesa was licensed to offer such bets over the Internet. Since then, the government has opened up the sector to competition, with the Betting Control and Licensing Board allowing about 10 companies to legally offer Internet bookmaking operations. Other sites that fall under this category include Betin, Bet Yetu, Betway, mCHEZA, and Justbet.
In addition, a wide variety of foreign websites offer sports wagering to the Kenyan market. While this activity is not expressly authorized under the law, it is tolerated, with no government action having been taken thus far to either block these sites or punish either operators or players who wager on them.
The exact methods used in order to make deposits into your online gambling accounts in this country will vary depending on the sites you play on. However, there are one popular option in particular that we’ve seen at major sites that you’ll want to be familiar with.
Regulated Kenyan sites like to use mobile payments through a service known as M-Pesa in order to process deposits. This is becoming a more popular option throughout the iGaming industry, and makes sense here, where it is a fast and secure way to bill players. For instance, at SportPesa, you can have a deposit billed to your Orange, Safaricom, or Airtel account, allowing you to get money into the sportsbook that you can pay for on your next mobile bill (or drawn from your prepaid phone balance). Mobile money accounts are also used to process withdrawals.
Of course, you may also find other common banking options available, particularly if you choose to play with foreign sites that have broader operations. There, you may be able to make deposits with Visa or MasterCard branded credit or debit cards, process bank transfers, or use an e-wallet program such as Neteller or Skrill. As always, the availability of these options will vary based on the sites chosen and what is made available specifically within your country.
Without a doubt, the number one sport to bet on in Kenya is soccer (or football). The game is extremely popular, and bets on all of the top European leagues make up the bulk of the action at most Kenyan sites. Whether it is England’s Premier League, La Liga is Spain, the German Bundesliga, or any other top level competition, you’ll not only find those matches highly-promoted on these sites, but you’ll also get plenty of specials and prop bets to choose from.
Of course, many other sports are also offered on these sites, just to cover anything you might want to bet on. Basketball is another game that is frequently bet, while American sports like baseball and American football get a fair amount of attention as well. Tennis, rugby, handball, volleyball, and cricket also see plenty of betting here.
Today, the gaming industry is regulated under the Betting, Lotteries, and Gaming Act. Passed in 1966, it is responsible for the establishment of the Betting Control and Licensing Board (or BCLB), which in turn oversees and regulates all types of gaming in the country. In general, most forms of gaming are legal under this framework, provided that operators are licensed by the BCLB. That includes everything from casino gambling to lotteries, sports betting, poker, and bingo.
Online gaming wasn’t initially considered as a part of this law – after all, in 1966, nobody could have imagined what the Internet would become. However, that has changed in recent years, as sports betting websites have been regulated since 2013. Many of these sites now also offer casino gaming as well, thought bookmaking still tends to be the main focus.
While most gaming operations are legal, there are regulations in place that restrict just how these companies can run their businesses. The most notable of these are protections for minors: it is illegal to allow underage gamblers to place bets, to employ children in gaming establishments, or to advertise towards them in any media. However, punishments against operators who violate these rules are fairly light, making it unclear just how closely the provisions are followed.
The first land-based casinos opened in Kenya back in 1969, just three years after they were legally permitted. Today, numerous casinos have proliferated throughout the country, focused mainly in a number of the country’s largest cities. More than a dozen of the largest resorts are a part of the Association of Gaming Operators Kenya, an industry group that lobbies on behalf of the casinos.
At least 10 casinos exist in Nairobi alone, including some rather notably international brands. These include the Palms Regency, Millionaires Casino, and Regency Slots. Three more casinos operate out of Mombasa, while others can be found in Malindi, Nakuru, Thika, and Watamu. Many of these same operators use a single license to also operate land-based betting shops, which are also concentrated heavily in major cities.
While there was very little taxation of the gaming industry for a long time in Kenya, this has changed in recent years. In 2013, a new Finance Act included a 20 percent withholding tax on all gambling winnings for players, whether they are paid in cash or as prizes. This caused some brief confusion because the law was backdated about two weeks after passing into law, meaning that recent winners had to be tracked down and informed of what they might owe the government.
Similarly, the government has recently moved in order to solidify rules on taxing operators as well. In late 2016, a new Finance Act set firm taxation rules for various types of gambling. Casinos and similar gaming companies will owe 12 percent of their turnover in taxes, while betting firms must now pay 7.5% and lottery operators 5%.
While the newly imposed tax regime is a first step in reforming their industry, Kenyan officials still wish to go further in modernizing how they deal with both online and live gambling in the country. Originally, the new taxation rates were part of a new, overhauled Betting, Gaming, and Lotteries Bill, which would have also included new regulations on the industry in a variety of areas.
While that bill didn’t come to pass (at least not in its entirety), it is likely to get another look in 2017, which could potentially mean some changes are in store for the country’s betting operators. What exactly that means, however, is still open to debate. At the moment, Kenya is known for having a very liberal market when it comes to gambling, with relatively rules and reasonably low tax rates even after the recent clarifications and increases.
We suspect that this will still be the case even if and when new regulations come into force. Minor updates to the current system seem far more likely that a complete overhaul, especially considering the success of the industry so far in the country. While legislators may look to tweak the current rules, there should be no threat of a crackdown or backlash on the industry as a whole, meaning players should continue to see a full range of legal betting options for the foreseeable future.