Kenya Government Deports 17 Foreign Gambling Workers

  • About 90% of the gambling executives in Kenya are foreign nationals
  • There have been 17 foreign nationals working in the gambling sector deported for working illegally
  • This is part of a widespread crackdown on the sector
  • About $257m in unpaid taxes has to be collected by July 1 or operators may have licenses suspended
  • A ban on gambling advertising has been suspended pending the hearing of a petition against it
Flag of Kenya being planted in the ground
The Kenyan government is deporting 17 foreign nationals who were working in the gambling sector illegally.

Gambling tradition in Kenya

Kenya, located in East Africa, has a population of about 45 million. It is somewhat more advanced economically than other countries in the region. Tourism is a large source of revenue for the government. About 60% of the country’s GDP comes from tourism.

Legal gambling was introduced in Kenya in 1966 through the Betting Lotteries and Gaming Act. This law created the Betting Control and Licensing Board, which regulates the sector and issues licenses to operators.

There are almost 30 casinos in the country, along with several sportsbooks, bingo halls, and a horse racing track. The state holds a monopoly on the lottery, bingo, and poker. While there have been attempts to make online gambling fully legal in Kenya, none has yet succeeded. Many residents use offshore gambling platforms that are not blocked by the government.

Deportation of gambling executives

Kenya has had some problems with gambling. The authorities recently pledged to deport anybody who was working in the local gambling sector illegally. Any person found to be working in the gambling sector with a work permit for a different sector will also face expulsion.

The secretary of the interior has now signed 17 deportation orders for foreign nationals who have been working in the nation illegally. Most of them were working in the country’s gambling sector.

The work visits of some of these people expired, while others were evading local taxes.

Those facing deportation are Spanish, Turkish, and Chinese nationals. According to reports, there are 109 executives in the local gambling sector who are foreign nationals, including people from Italy, China, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, South Korea, and Serbia.

They account for about 90% of the total executives in the space. A lot of their profits go back to their home countries, meaning that Kenya is exposed to the negative side of gambling without getting much of a return.

Unpaid taxes

The government believes that operators in the sector owe about $257m (£202.6m) in taxes. If they do not receive these unpaid taxes by July 1, the government is threatening to suspend their gambling licenses.

According to the authorities, the country’s main sportsbook, SportPesa, owes over 50% of the total tax obligation. The firm says that due to ongoing court issues, they are unable to remit the 20% tax on winnings.

Ban on gambling ads

As part of its crackdown on the gambling sector, Kenya imposed a ban on gambling advertising in May. This ban covered celebrity endorsements of gambling companies and social media ads.

The aim was to stop the infiltration of gambling into the normal lives of underage people. Kenya has high levels of gambling participation. A 2017 survey by GeoPoll showed that those between 17 and 35 years old represent 76% of those who gamble frequently.

This ban was to take effect on May 30. However, a backlash led to the suspension of the ban. A well-known musician in Kenya, Murigi Kamau Wanjohl, challenged the ban on the grounds that it is unreasonable and irrational. He spoke about how this ban is very detrimental to him because he “earns a living thorough endorsement of products and services due to his influence and celebrity status.”

This led to a judge suspending the implementation of the ban until the musician’s petition is heard. The judge said: “Pending the hearing and determination of this case, a conservatory order is issued staying the implementation of the decision by the BCLB issued on April 30 touching on advertisement and endorsement of betting, lottery, gaming, and prize competitions.”