SportPesa bags licence as BCLB backs down

Betting Control and Licensing Board Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Peter Mbugi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

SportPesa has been awarded a licence to operate in the current financial year ending June 2023, ending years of regulatory and court battles pitting the firm against the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB).

A list of betting firms authorised to operate in the 2022/23 fiscal year shows that Milestone Games Limited –which operates under the SportPesa brand— has been awarded licence number 0000448.

The regulator published the updated list of authorised betting firms on its website. Milestone has in the past two years relied on a temporary court order to operate amid battles over ownership of the SportPesa trademark.

Pevans East Africa pioneered sports betting in the country in November 2013 with the SportPesa brand and operated until July 2019 when its licence was cancelled for what BCLB said was non-payment of taxes amounting to Sh95 billion.

Milestone subsequently entered the betting business on October 30, 2020, using the SportPesa trade name and it was issued a directive by BCLB on the same day to stop using the brand.

The regulator at the time said the trademark belonged to Pevans. It later emerged that two shareholders of Pevans — Paul Wanderi Ndung’u and Asenath Wacera Maina— were left out of the ownership of Milestone.

The duo has sued the Registrar of Trademarks and Milestone, arguing that the brand was irregularly transferred from Pevans.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the change of stance at BCLB that saw the regulator issue Milestone with a permit.

Mr Ndung’u had, however, issued a public statement recently, predicting that the regulator would soon clear Milestone due to pressure from powerful individuals close to the outgoing administration.

“The same Cabinet Secretary (Fred Matiang’i) has ensured that all the relevant government institutions and multi agencies have cleared Milestone Games Limited to get a licence within the June/July within all necessary means that the power of state confers to the institutions,” Mr Ndungu wrote in a letter dated July 30, 2022.

The letter was addressed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to whom he appealed to reverse the takeover of the SportPesa brand and assets.

Milestone is among 46 firms cleared by BCLB to operate in the current fiscal year.

A majority of the companies were cleared by the taxman between the start of last month and August 5, paving the way for the issuance of their licenses by the BCLB.

“Between 1st July and 5th August 2022, a total of one hundred and five (105) companies have been cleared by KRA for issuance of BCLB licence,” KRA said in a response to Business Daily.

SportPesa is the most popular gaming brand in Kenya, enjoying a customer base of an estimated 12 million gamblers.

Punters placed bets valued at Sh447.33 billion through SportPesa in the 68 months that it operated in Kenya under Pevans, highlighting the betting firm’s dominance in the country.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.