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UK tycoon joins list of billionaires seeking Kenya's betting billions

Gamblers in a betting outlet
Gamblers in a betting outlet in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

British tycoon Victor Chandler has sought a licence to open a betting firm in Kenya, joining the growing list of billionaires seeking a piece of the gaming billions.

Africa focused betting firm, BetLion, has sought a permit from the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) in a move that will put it in a head- to-head battle with firms like SportPesa, Betway and Betin, which serve about seven million Kenyans registered for betting services.

Mr Chandler has tuned to the continent in his return to betting with the industry generating billions of shillings owing to the huge number of Africans hooked to betting.

This has encouraged wealthy Kenyans like Royal Media Services chairman SK Macharia, the family of tycoon and former Kenya Power CEO Samuel Gichuru, Paul Wanderi Ndung’u and Paul Kinuthia to join the gaming industry.

A source at BCLB said BetLion’s permit approvals are complete, and that the firm could launch operations before the end of the year.

“BetLion focus will be on online betting and like SportPesa will ride on the mobile phone. They are Africa focused” said the source at BCLB, the industry’s regulator.

Kenya has witnessed a rapid growth of online gambling and the government’s forecast tax earnings from betting estimates the sector’s annual sales at more than Sh36 billion.

SportPesa is the dominant player and its owners include Mr Ndung’u, a major player at the Nairobi Securities Exchange, where he holds significant stakes in multiple firms, and Mr Kinuthia, who became a billionaire after he sold his Nice & Lovely firm to global cosmetics giant L’Oreal.

Mr Macharia is seeking betting cash with Shabiki.com while the Gichurus have Mcheza sports betting.

The cigar-smoking Chandler, credited as a pioneer of telephone and online betting, built gaming firm BetVictor, which is now the official training kit sponsor of English Premier League giants Liverpool before selling it in 2014.

BetLion has gained market share in the Ugandan market since setting shop early this year riding on the sponsorship.

Kenya’s SportPesa started operations in Uganda in late 2017.

BetLion is seeking to have a presence in eight African countries including Zambia and others in West Africa.
The firm’s entry in Kenya comes after the Treasury successfully pushed for a change in law that cut gaming tax from 35 percent of gross revenues to 15 percent, caving in to pressure from betting firms.

The companies had opposed the 35 percent tax which took effect on January 1, saying the high taxes are hurting their business and had opened the door for a black market for betting that would deny the taxman revenues.

Kenya also raised the entry fee for investors seeking a piece of Kenya’s betting and gaming pie from Sh40,000 to Sh20 million to lock out small operators.

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