SportPesa is among the 97 betting firms that will be blocked from using mobile money platforms following a government order to suspend paybills for companies that do not have an operating licence.
Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Director-General Ezra Chiloba ordered Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya to suspend the payment channels of the betting firms amid an ongoing review of applications for licenses.
The Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) said that only Betika, Spotika and Betafrique had been cleared to operate in the 2022/23 financial year as of Friday last week.
The SportPesa business is currently run by Milestone Games Limited whose licence was suspended by the regulator for, among other reasons, changing its ownership and using the popular brand which is also claimed by Pevans East Africa.
“The Mobile Network Operators are therefore required to discontinue with immediate effect the issuance of licensed ICT platforms and services including USSD, shortcodes and paybill numbers to betting, lotteries and gaming entities whose BCLB licenses for 2022-23 have not been renewed,” Mr Chiloba said in a notice dated July 1.
BCLB had also directed Milestone to stop using paybill numbers 521521, 9555700 and 955700 and shortcodes 29050 and 790179 that are also claimed by Pevans.
Milestone shareholders also have stakes in Pevans where they fell out with their partners with whom they pioneered sports betting from 2014 to 2019 when the company lost its operating licence over alleged non-payment of taxes.
Milestone launched operations in October 2020 and has been relying on a temporary court order which has frozen the regulator’s directives.
The government is currently reviewing licences of all betting firms for the 2022/23 financial year and has only cleared three out of the 100 that were operating in the year ended June.
Safaricom’s M-Pesa remains the most dominant mobile money platform used to send money for betting underling the impact that cancellation of the paybill will have on the gaming firms.
Gamblers spent Sh169.1 billion to bet through M-Pesa in the year ended March, up from Sh136 billion a year earlier.
Kenya had 100 betting firms licensed to operate in the year ended June 2022 up from 76 in a similar period in 2021 —reflecting a 31.5 percent growth and the fresh licensing could trim this number.
The CA order adds to the government crackdown on the betting industry which has featured increased taxation and deregistration of non-compliant companies.