Uganda Sports Betting Ban Hits SportPesa Expansion

22 January 2019

Uganda has banned sports betting, dealing a blow to local firms like SportPesa that set shop in the country with an eye on gaming billions.

The country's Finance minister David Bahati said President Yoweri Museveni had ordered that no new sports betting company should be licensed Uganda and permits for existing ones be renewed.

"We have received a directive from President Museveni to stop licensing sports betting, gaming and gambling companies," Mr Bahati was quoted saying last weekend.

"The President has now directed the board which has been regulating them that... from now onwards, no new companies are going to be licensed. Those which are already registered, no renewal of licenses when they expire."

The minister who spoke during a church function said the decision had been taken "because sports betting companies have diverted the attention of youth from hard work."

This deals a blow to firms that had looked to Uganda as the new frontier for growth. SportPesa started operations in Uganda in late 2017.

President Museveni's position is a departure from 2017 when he hailed SportPesa entry into Uganda, arguing it was a boost to the sports industry.

"The group seeks to help the government empower the youth through football and increase revenue by strictly regulating betting," President Museveni said in the 2017 meeting with SportPesa.

BetLion, which started Kenya operations in December, has gained market share in Uganda market since setting shop early this year riding on sports sponsorship.

British betting tycoon Victor Chandler, who is worth £230million (Sh30.1 billion), is a significant shareholder of the Kenyan unit of BetLion that also count local investors as owners.

The ban is in contrast to Kenya, which eased online betting taxes.

Kenya in September more than halved tax on gaming to 15 percent from 35 percent -- which was imposed in January last year and suffocated the fledgling industry, hurting supporting businesses.

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