Uganda: Government to Take Over Sports Betting

Kampala — The government has stopped renewal or issuance of licences to new and existing gaming and sports betting companies in the country "with immediate effect."

The government announced that it will take over the betting activities under a new policy mechanism to manage its interests in the industry.

On May 14, the Finance minister, Mr Matia Kasaija, wrote to Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board, the industry regulator, reinforcing a Cabinet decision early this year which stopped licensing or renewal of licences of new and existing gaming and betting businesses in the country.

"Based on the Cabinet resolution, I hereby direct you to stop licensing of gaming and betting with immediate effect," the letter reads in part.

The letter is copied to the Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi.

The cessation of licensing betting companies was first revealed by Mr David Bahati, the State Minister of Finance for Planning, early this year while he addressed a Church congregation in Kabale Town.

He said President Museveni had directed halting of issuance of licences or renewing existing ones to all betting companies.

The announcement sparked public uproar and confusion, forcing Mr Kasaija to clarify a day later that the proposed ban was only applicable on foreign firms whose profit repatriation was hurting Uganda's economy.

Daily Monitor has seen a January 14 Cabinet minute regarding the decision to stop licensing of betting companies.

"Cabinet noted the directive by President Museveni to the Minister of Finance to halt the renewal of expired licenses for sports betting activities and issuance of any new licenses to interested parties. After the current licences issued on sports betting expire, the state would have the monopoly on sports betting activities countrywide," the minute states.

Mr Kasaija's May 14 letter was a response to an earlier letter on April 24 by the Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board chairman, Mr Manzi Tumubweine, who sought guidance on [re] licensing of gaming and lotteries companies in light of earlier contradictory statements.

In the April 24 letter, a copy seen by Daily Monitor, Mr Tumubweine said in absence of a proper position and in light of their mandate under section 27 of the Lotteries and Gaming Act, they had invited applications for licensing in 2019, which process had commenced in October 2018.

"The board received 60 applications for the licensing of 2019 and evaluated them accordingly," Mr Tumubweine wrote to Kasaija.

"The purpose of this letter is to request for clarification regarding licensing of gaming and betting and your guidance on how to deal with operators who applied in time as per the law; met all requirements for licensing for 2019; and are presently in operation since the board did not require them to stop operations while submitting missing requirements for licence renewal."

Mr Edgar Agaba, the National Gaming Board's chief executive officer, declined to comment on the matter yesterday.

Highly placed sources in ministry of Finance separately intimated to Daily Monitor that government intends to create a statutory body, to be known as National Gamings and Lotteries Company, which will carry government's commercial interests in all betting licences to be issued later under a new licensing regime.

Further provisions on the proposal, sources said, are still being worked out.

Industry

There are mainly six different forms of gaming in Uganda; lottery, casino, slot machines, sports betting, bingo, and pool betting. There are about 161 gaming operators in the country. They generated Shs45 billion in tax revenue in the 2017/2018 financial year, up from Shs240m in 2002/2003.

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