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UK accuses gambling firms of snubbing rehabs

Sunday July 14 2019

a betting spot in Nairobi's CBD

A guard frisks customers at a betting spot in Nairobi's CBD on July 30, 2016. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BERNADINE MUTANU
By BERNADINE MUTANU
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The gambling industry is on the spot in the United Kingdom for meagre contributions to rehabilitating addicts even as betting firms in Kenya come to terms with the closure of their pay bill numbers.

According to UK’s deputy leader of the Labour Party, Mr Tom Watson, SportPesa, one of Kenya’s biggest betting firms, contributed only 50 pounds to a charity that rehabilitates gamblers in 2018, despite the increasing addiction especially in children.

SportPesa is the biggest betting company in Kenya, according to court documents with a revenue of Sh20.1 billion in 2018, is the sponsor of Everton Football Club (UK), and has a huge following locally.

TURNOVER

While the industry in the UK had a turnover of Sh1.9 trillion (14.5 billion pounds) in 2018, the industry in Kenya is worth at least Sh50 billion and paid Sh15 billion in taxes.

Unfortunately, the industry has been accused of contributing very little to rehabilitate gambling addicts despite the huge income.

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“The gambling industry turns over 14.5 billion pounds a year (in UK). Yet currently contributes less than 10 million pounds a year to GambleAware,” said Mr Watson last week.

“Some companies contribute amounts that are frankly insulting to the voluntary system. That is completely unacceptable and deliberately insulting to those leading players in the industry who are trying to take responsibility,” he added, referring to the firms that contributed very little to help the at least 430,000 gambling addicts in the UK, of which 55,000 are children.

Fun88, sponsors of Newcastle and ‘sister’ to Sportpesa, gave 50 pounds last year, Best Bets, five pounds, while GFM Holdings Ltd gave one pound.

TAXES

In Kenya, betting firms pay 15 per cent of the Gross Gaming Revenue to the government. In June, Treasury proposed a tax of 10 per cent on every bet placed by Kenyans regardless of having won or not.

According to the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB), betting companies cumulatively made Sh204 billion in 2018 but paid only Sh4 billion as tax.

However, according to court documents, SportPesa alone paid taxes amounting to a total of Sh6.3 billion.

NO LAWS

Mr Watson decried inadequate regulation and lack of laws to govern the gambling industry in a digital era and called on a complete overhaul of the rules and regulations.

“We have gambling companies licensed in the UK, sponsoring UK football teams, yet operating entirely abroad — behaving irresponsibly and fuelling addiction in countries like Kenya,” he complained.

According to him, betting companies are impoverishing their customers by allowing them to lose tens of thousands of shillings on multiple credit cards in a single sitting.

“We have companies who, after customers try to self-exclude bombards them with advertising emails and offers of free bets, then makes them sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when they settle,” he said.

SPORTPESA'S RESPONSE

But in a statement on Sunday, SportPesa said in addition to being compliant with the law and requirements as well as boosting sports development in the country, it has invested in the community.

“Our business has uniquely and consistently boosted sports development in the country and we have never wavered in our support to the investment in the community,” said SportPesa’s chief executive officer (CEO) Ronald Karauri yesterday.

Some of the areas the firm allegedly has invested is in water access, environmental protection and uplifting skills of youth, he said.

In Kenya, 27 betting companies face closure after the government halted their gambling pay bill numbers last week pending renewal of their licenses.

ARREST ORDER

On Friday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i ordered for the arrest and arraignment in court of any gambler found operating without license anywhere in the country.

The CS said anyone found operating without a license will be engaging in crime,“ Get hold of them and let them meet with the law so that we can create an orderly environment,” said Dr Matiang’i.

The firms have said they are discussing with the Ministry of Interior and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to find an harmonious solution to the stalemate.

“I wish to assure our customers that we are in discussion and engagement with the Ministry of Interior and KRA. We remain hopeful that an amicable solution will be arrived at soon to allow us to resume services,” said Mr Karauri in the statement.