Blow to betting firms as Safaricom suspends M-Pesa paybill numbers

Cash handled by mobile money agents crossed the Sh700 billion mark for the first time in July. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Customers will now be unable to load funds into their betting wallets marking the biggest move by industry regulator Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) to enforce compliance by the firms.

  • The betting industry generates annual sales of Sh200 billion making it one of the most lucrative sectors that has attracted international firms like Betway into the country.

  • Pevans Limited that trades as Sportpesa is the dominant player, followed by Betin Kenya.

Safaricom #ticker:SCOM Friday suspended M-Pesa pay bills betting firms including SportPesa and Betin two days after a government directive.

Customers have been unable to load funds into their betting wallets since Friday following the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) directive despite court orders suspending the move.

“Failed, dear customer this paybill is unavailable due to the government directive to suspend Betting Paybill numbers, Kindly contact your Betting Company,” read the M-Pesa responses to customers making deposits to their SportPesa accounts.

“Dear customers, for any queries regarding betting transactions, kindly contact your betting service provider for more information, Betin,” read responses to attempts to make M-Pesa payments to Gamcod Limited which operates at Betin.

BCLB had through a letter dated July 10th 2019 ordered Safaricom to suspend the paybill numbers because the betting firms have not renewed their operating licences for the year starting July 1.

“Consequently, we request you to suspend pay bills and short codes until otherwise advised,” BCLB said in a letter to Safaricom.

High Court early this week suspended the decision by BCLB to withdraw the operating license of Gamcode Limited, which operates as Betin Kenya.

Safaricom said that it has suspended 955100- paybill number for Pevans East Africa that operates as SportPesa and further directed customers to contact Betin for any difficulties in making their payments through the 997270 paybill number.

Suspension of the paybill numbers comes days after Safaricom said the directive left it at cross-roads because some of the accounts have money and some firms like SportPesa and Betin have secured orders to continue operating.

“A conservatory order be and is hereby issued staying or suspending the effect of the betting board’s decision of rejecting the applicant’s application for the renewal of its 2019/2020 bookmaker’s licence, until July 16,” High Court judge said in his ruling this week.

BCLB says the betting 27 firms are yet to meet undisclosed licensing requirements and are being vetted to establish if they are fit to hold gambling permits amid demands by Kenya Revenue Authority on two major firms to clear their withholding tax arrears.

The betting industry records an average of Sh200 billion in annual sales and has attracted international firms like Betway. The growth has come at a cost for Kenyan youth who have borrowed loans to finance their gambling habits.

In April, Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i said that about half a million youth have been blacklisted by mobile lenders for loans they take to finance their gambling habits.

A survey by think-tank CGAP found that Kenyan youth blacklisted by credit bureaus rose from 150,000 to 500,000 between 2016 to 2018, an indication that some of the cash ends up in gambling.


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