The government of Kenya is clearing funds straight from accounts of online bookmakers in a development that is causing a lot of waves across the African nation for both operators and bettors.
The government has already informed national telecom operators to tell their clients that they need to immediately take all of their funds out of their online betting accounts. All mobile wallets and any shortcode payments processes will be halted by the telecom operators, thereby eliminating customer-to-bookmaker engagements.
The order was handed down by Liti Wambua, who is the director of the Kenyan Betting Control and Licensing Board. News reports have been quoted as mentioning that: “People have 48 hours to withdraw these funds before they are all cleared out by the government.”
This development comes after 27 licensed bookmakers were suspended last week because of a riff over taxes. The operators allegedly have a debt to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) amounting to tens of millions’ worth of industry taxes. The authorities are keen on honing in on the sector until the debt is completely paid.
The total sum owed is estimated to be $257m (£206.7m), with SportPesa accounting for more than half of this sum. Back in May, the authorities gave operators a deadline of July 1 to pay these taxes or face a shutdown. Some of the operators whose licenses have been suspended are Mozzartbet, Betboss, Atari Gaming, 1xBet, Premierbet, betPawa, Betway, and SportPesa.
The main telecom company in the country, Safaricom, has already requested the government to alter its approach to the issue at hand. The company says that more than 12 million of its customers would be affected by the said shutdown.
Some of the largest bookmakers in the country, like betPawa, Betin, and SportPesa, have also expressed that the move is in fact, illegal. They are now launching a counterclaim against the Kenyan Betting Control and Licensing Board, saying that the government cannot lawfully make payment demands while orders are still being disputed.
The authorities are on high alert for operators that would be looking to escape paying taxes. They are reportedly telling national banks to freeze the corporate accounts of these firms. 17 betting firm directors have already been deported by the authorities because of violations involving visa work permits.
The declaration came via a simple statement by the interior ministry’s head of communications that said: “The cabinet secretary (minister) signed 17 deportation orders for directors of betting companies.” She did not make any more comments on the matter.