Connecting with Kenya: an overview of the Kenyan gambling market
Kenya is a multi-ethnic nation located in the African Great Lakes region. It has a population of approximately 47 million people and uses two official languages, English and Swahili. It’s the largest economy in East Africa and the country where online gambling is legal and widespread.
In this article, we take a comprehensive look at Kenya’s iGaming and gambling landscape, as well as ways that you can enter this rapidly-expanding market.
Kenyan gambling market
The Kenyan gambling market is enormous – currently estimated to be worth $40 million (2020), and is growing rapidly despite the worldwide crisis. Currently, Kenya is the third in Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to sheer market size, (after South Africa and Nigeria), but has the highest number of young gambling players in the region. Young Kenyans already spend more money on gambling on average than youth in other African countries.
The Kenyan gambling market is dominated by sports betting. Like many other African nations, the most popular sport to bet on is football, with the European leagues in particular accounting for a considerable segment of betting preferences.
Betting is followed by online poker and online casino games, but those sectors haven’t yet reached levels of popularity to compete with sportsbooks.
There are nearly 30 sportsbooks licensed to operate in the country, and it’s estimated that the combined revenue of sportsbooks in Kenya is $2 billion. The first online sportsbook to enter the market was SportPesa, which received its license in 2013.
According to statistics from GeoPoll, SportPesa is by far the most popular betting platform in Kenya, with 82% of Kenyan gamblers reporting that they had an account with the sportsbook. The other most popular operators are Betin, Elitebet, Betika, Mcheza, and Betpawa.
The land-based casino market is established and very active. There are 30 licensed casinos in Kenya, most of which are located in major cities. Some of the biggest and most famous casinos in the country include the Casino Flamingo, the Mayfair Casino, and the Captain’s Club in Nairobi, and the Golden Key Casino, and the Senator Casino in Mombasa. Blackjack, roulette, and poker are among the most popular table games in Kenya, and slot machines are also very widespread, with estimated totals of around 200 gaming tables and 1300 slot machines throughout the country.
Traditionally, the market was focused on these brick and mortar betting shops and land-based casinos, but in recent years there has been a massive shift to online, which gives rise to numerous opportunities.
What sets Kenya apart – is technology. Kenya has a very high internet penetration rate for an African country – 43%. And a vast majority of internet users in the country, do so from mobile devices. This massive digitalization led to an explosive growth of the online gambling sector, it’s not only a question of convenience, but many people in Kenya also reside in rural areas far from casinos betting shops. Already in 2019, 88% of bettors used their mobile phones to place wagers, and most likely, this number will only increase.
Another factor that contributes to this growth is M-Pesa (mobile money), a service for online payments that is extremely popular in the country. The Kenyan economy is still largely cash-based, so credit cards and bank accounts are relatively rare. M-Pesa bridges the gap by allowing deposits in retail outlets, that can be then transferred to online bookmakers and online casinos.
This greatly enlarged the potential customer base for online gambling businesses.
The online-only segments are just beginning to become popular in Kenya. Slots, for example, account for only thirty per cent of profit for online casinos, but more and more young adults find the low risk and simplicity of such games attractive.
Most Kenyan gamblers are young (18-25) and either students or come from a low-income background, and see online gambling not only as a chance to relax but as a way to create a source of supplementary income. As a result, it’s typical for operators in Kenya to rely on large volumes and high frequencies of low-value bets.
The nuances of Kenyan legal framework
Gambling, in general, is completely legal in Kenya, but the legal landscape is far from simple. Most of the regulations stem from a “Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act” of 1966, and as a result, do not mention online gambling in any shape or form.
A law that was passed in 2013, introduced regulations to websites offering sports betting.
Gambling is regulated by Kenya’s Betting Control and Licensing Board, but the regulations mostly relate to land-based operations, which created an opportunity for numerous international operators to enter the market.
While unregulated, the online segment is tolerated by the government, and the operators licensed in other jurisdictions can freely operate in the country.
Kenyan legislators were planning to change that: a Gaming Bill 2019 was drafted that was aimed to introduce licensing for all types of online gaming, completely transforming the iGaming industry by limiting overseas operators, regulating advertising, and imposing taxes. However, since November 2019 when the bill was scheduled for second reading, there was no news on it. At the moment it’s unclear whether it will come into force in the foreseeable future.
Generally speaking, Kenyan law permits most gambling activities like betting, lottery, casino games, and slots. Kenyan law does not distinguish between games of skill or chance and there aren’t any restrictions on how Kenyans can place bets(except for age restriction).
The Kenyan government has a history of relying on taxation from the gambling industry. As we mentioned in our article about the legality of betting around the world, Kenya is one of the countries with an uneasy history of dealing with betting operators.
In 2018 together with reducing taxes for gross gaming revenue from 35% to 15%, the government started taxing bettors’ winnings. This 20% tax was not well-received by the industry, and when Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) started to argue that this tax also applied for betting stakes, many big betting operators, like SportPesa were ready to exit the market.
In July 2020, this controversial tax was removed, but within days the government promised to reintroduce it in a different form within six months.
Right now there are the following gambling taxes that apply in Kenya:
- Winnings from gaming are taxed at a rate of 15%
- The lottery tax is charged at a rate of 15% of the lottery turnover
- Betting tax is charged at the rate of 15% of the revenue generated from betting
As it was mentioned previously, an online sector is not currently taxed but if the Gaming Bill 2019 ever passes, it’s very likely that similar taxes will come into force.
Next steps: How to enter Kenyan Market
Kenya is a market with a lot of potential, but it requires caution and well thought out business plan to be commercially successful in the region. Despite sports betting being a dominant gambling sector in the market, Slotegrator’s recommendation for the operators planning to expand into this region is to adopt a combined approach and to offer other online casino games, as well as options for betting. The current legal landscape also favors other sectors because they are not currently taxed or regulated, so if you are a licensed operator — the opportunity cost of expanding to target Kenya is comparatively low.
The crisis which hits betting especially hard worldwide also means growth for online poker, slots, and other games which do not rely on public events.
Choosing a payment system that will work well in the region is also a huge factor for success, it’s critically important that your customers will find a convenient way to deposit money and receive winnings.
Overall, the market is steadily moving from being largely land-based towards online, and many operators around the globe are taking advantage of that.
However, entering a new market is no easy task. If you require professional assistance or wish to fine-tune your existing business plan to be a perfect fit for Kenya, contact us for a free consultation. Our team of legal professionals and iGaming experts is happy to help.
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