July 17, 2019 / 10:29 AM / 2 months ago

Kenya orders deportation of 17 foreign directors of betting firms

A worker at the Sportpesa, online sports betting firm, attends to a telephone at the company headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya has ordered the deportation of 17 foreign directors of betting firms operating in Kenya, the interior ministry said on Wednesday, almost a week after ordering telecoms firm Safaricom to stop processing payments for sports betting firms.

Online sports betting companies such as SportPesa have grown rapidly in the East African nation in recent years, riding a wave of enthusiasm for sports, with the government putting their combined revenue at 200 billion shillings ($2 billion) last year, up from 2 billion shillings five years earlier.

However, that has raised government concern about the social impact of betting. In May, the country introduced new gambling regulations, including banning advertising outdoors and on social media.

The interior ministry said on July 1 that regulator Betting Control and Licensing Board had declined to renew licences of 19 firms while it reviewed their operations and shareholding structures.

“The cabinet secretary (minister) signed 17 deportation orders for directors of betting companies,” said Wangui Muchiri, the head of communications at the interior ministry. She declined further comment.

Reuters could not immediately ascertain those targeted but Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported that they included nationals of Bulgaria, Italy, Russia and Poland.

Last week, the government ordered telecom companies to stop processing payments for the betting companies, saying their betting licences had not yet been renewed. [nL8N24D425]

The gaming companies rely largely on Safaricom’s popular M-Pesa financial digital mobile platform to take bets, communicate with users and process payments.

Each betting firm is assigned a unique number, known as a pay-bill, which is used to process payments from users who place bets on their mobile phones and to pay off those who win.

Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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