Kenya: Make Task Force On Radio Gambling More Inclusive

Whereas other gaming activities are regulated by and raise revenue for the government, legal and other sectoral pundits have raised their concerns over an increase in gambling through paybill numbers by players including FM radio stations.

It is, therefore, not a coincidence that on the same day Media Council of Kenya (MCK) formed a task force to review betting and related activities in media outlets, Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) issued a stern warning to them that they risked fines for unauthorised promotion of lotteries.

There is a frenzy of FM radio stations engaging in what is, no doubt, gambling. Early this year, MCK was compelled to call for action against media houses running illegal betting activities that were fleecing Kenyans. MCK chief executive David Omwoyo lamented that some of the media houses were luring Kenyans into fictitious betting activities.

The task force comprises eminent media professionals and will address all emerging issues, best practices and their impact on the media industry. But since the matter is cross-cutting, incorporate the relevant state agencies -- such as BCLB, Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). The agencies should confirm whether the client promotions run in the media are legit and winners fairly selected and awarded.

Against the law

Many community and even national FM radio stations run gaming or betting activities, which is against the law as they don't have the requisite licences. They must choose between gambling and broadcasting. Although the quest for sustainability makes stations become aggressive in looking for money, this must not be done through non-existent and illegal betting that fleeces their audience.

More appalling is the silence from the regulatory bodies for communication, such as CA. Importantly, every lottery is supposed to give 25 per cent of its earnings to charity. Do they? Are they even taxed?

In 2018, The National Treasury imposed a 15 per cent tax on betting companies and another 20 per cent as withholding tax on winnings.

It went on to slap industry with more taxes -- like 20 per cent excise duty on stakes, besides corporation tax. Several betting firms closed shop over a longstanding tax row with KRA after the Treasury imposed 10 per cent excise duty on winnings, which was then increased to 20 per cent.

Radio stations seem to have an undue advantage over registered betting firms, just like the gambling outfits that don't have offices or pay taxes. Ironically, while they pay out daily winnings of over Sh20 million, KRA is struggling to hit its Sh1.77 trillion revenue target as betting ruins our youth, Kenya's future.

On average, the radios have more than six paybill numbers. The games have neither customer care contact nor location. Who regulates them? Why do some have different names? Where is the telcos' due diligence role? Are they classified as gaming sites?

Mr Masava is a communications specialist. mmasava@gmail.com.

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