Kenya: SportPesa, Betin Hire Top City Lawyers to Have Paybills Restored

Former Attorney General Githu Muigai.

Three gaming companies on Monday put up a spirited fight as they urged the High Court to compel the government to lift the suspension of their paybill numbers.

Appearing before Justice John Mativo, the companies including SportPesa, Betin and 1xBet argued that the suspension of their paybill numbers and short codes halted their businesses, despite meeting all the requirements.

Through Senior Counsel Paul Muite, SportPesa, trading as Pevan East Africa, said Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB), ordered Safaricom and Airtel to suspend their paybills and short codes despite obtaining a court order.

BCLB acted arbitrarily, causing injustice to the firm and threatening hundreds of jobs, he said. "Any action done in violation of a court order is a nullity. The letter (to Safaricom and Airtel) is a complete nullity because it was made in defiance of a court order."

Prof Githu Muigai for Gamcode Ltd, also known as Betin, said BCLB cannot be allowed to act "in a manner that it deems fit and in contravention of the law".

OBSERVE THE LAW

"The board is under duty to observe the law," he said.

Advanced Gaming, through Mbugua Ng'ang'a, said it has invested heavily and if not lifted, the suspension of the paybill numbers will lead to closure of its business.

In reply, however, the board said that by ordering a status quo, the court effectively took over its mandate and "renewed the licences of the three companies."

Safaricom -- an interested party in the case -- said it acted to safeguard the public interest and it should not be forced to break the law by allowing unlicensed operators to continue without valid licences.

The firm said BCLB wrote informing them that licences for various companies had expired and were not renewed until they met certain requirements

Meanwhile, SportPesa wants President Kenyatta to form a committee to investigate and study best practices within the industry to guide regulation and taxation.

In a presentation to Senate committee on Justice, Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the firm also wants BCLB to process and issue its licence for 2019/20 "as we continue to engage in legal tax dispute resolution measures with KRA."

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