At the time of their suspension, the gambling industry alone controlled over Sh200 billion.
Matiang’i said the licences would only be renewed if the firms complied with the law, including paying all accumulated taxes.
As reality sinks in, in Malaba town, retail shop owner Samuel Mkoko occasionally sneaks out of his business to bet in Uganda. He said the decision to halt the renewal of betting firms’ permits was ill-timed.
“I have friends who are unemployed but are good at betting. They entirely rely on gambling to pay rent, buy food and clothes and even save money. I know of one who has bought a plot of land,” Mkoko said.
“Suspension should have come after the government has provided alternative sources of income. We are only lucky because we are near Uganda. Uganda will support us. There is nothing like withholding tax there. I will bet in Kenya if the 20 per cent withholding tax is done away with.”
Before the latest developments, the gambling industry in Kenya had grown tremendously the last five years, to the tune of Sh202.67 billion, employing approximately 5,000 people, official data shows.
To Etyang’, the new tax’s introduction is only a ploy by the government to cash in from where it never invested since it takes the lion’s share of what gamers earn.
“Gaming is not as profitable as it was before the new tax was introduced. That is why we have gone to Uganda. Government should get an alternative way of taxing but not from our hard-earned money. Let it tax the gambling firms but not us,” he said.
He said he does not see himself abandoning gambling since the boda boda motorcycle he owns was bought with betting money.
Just like Etyang’ and Mkoko, Elizabeth Anyaa, who completed college in 2015 and is still unemployed, has also not been spared by the new gaming rules.
“I am not familiar with the betting firms currently in the Kenyan market. I know SportPesa. Since they have closed shop, I have no option but to follow my friends to Uganda,” she said.
In her free time when she is in Malaba town, she hops onto a motorbike and rides to the Ugandan side of the border, where she deposits money to her Ugandan MTN mobile line, places her bets before returning to Kenya.
If she wins, she returns to Uganda for mobile money withdrawals before deciding on whether to spend the money in Uganda or Kenya.
She says she meets at least 50 Kenyans in the gambling shop she frequents in Uganda every weekend. There are five such shops in Malaba, Uganda.