SportPesa, Betin and 1xBet plead for Government’s Leniency On Suspended Licenses

Three betting companies are have lodged a plea to be allowed to continue with business after suspension of their licenses by the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) early July. The firms are now urging the High Court to compel the government to lift the suspension of their pay bill numbers saying the get-tough approach has halted their businesses despite meeting all requirements.

Sportpesa, Betin, and 1xBet are among firms that faced the ax after the June 30th license renewal deadline along with 13 casinos, six lotteries and eight sports betting firms. Sportpesa argues that a court order issued at the verge of taxation tussle with KRA allows the firm to be in operation but telecommunications companies Airtel and Safaricom were given a directive to suspend their pay bills by BCLB. Senior counsel Paul Muite says the board acted arbitrarily, causing injustice to the company and threatening hundreds of jobs.

The firms argue that there are optional methods of settling tax debts than halting operations and the betting board should not be allowed to act “in a manner that it deems fit and in contravention of the law”.
In reply, however, the board said by ordering a status quo, the court effectively took over its mandate and “renewed the licenses of the three companies.”

Advantage To Competitors

“By issuing the directive complained of, the Board deliberately moved against the applicant’s core business with a view of shutting it down and giving an unfair advantage to its competitors,” part of the application reads
The betting firms are now facing the risk of closure if parties involved do not come up with optional methods of settling taxation disputes. Kenyans employed both, directly and indirectly, have been laid off since license suspension with more facing job losses in the near future.

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Safaricom, which has been named in the case as an interested party, said it acted to safeguard the interest of the public and it should not be forced to break the law by allowing unlicensed operators to continue without valid licenses. The board is sticking to its guns saying the order was issued with consideration of all the applicable principles and the law.

SportPesa now wants President Kenyatta to form a committee to investigate and study best practices within the industry that can guide regulation and taxation. Judgement will be made on September 19, 2019.

Gathoni Kuria

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