The triumphant return to its home market by Kenyan sports betting operator SportPesa has been rudely interrupted by the local gambling regulator.
On Friday, official social media feeds from SportPesa enthusiastically declared that the company was once again free to embrace the operation of Kenyan bettors via the transfer of its brand name to a new locally licenced bookmaker, Milestone Games Ltd, which is little talked about.
As Kenyan media announced Saturday that Cyrus Maina, chairman of the Betting Control and Licensing Board of Kenya (BCLB), wrote a letter to Milestone operations manager Bernard Chauro on Friday banning Milestone from using the brand SportPesa, the excitement did not last long.
Maina told Chauro that “a variance in the trade name the board approved vis-à-vis the name Milestone Games Limited currently wishes to adopt.” Maina noted that Sportpesa Global Holdings had given Milestone the authority to use the SportPesa brand.
Maina said, however, that the SportPesa trade name is the property of M / s Pevans East Africa Limited, which shares directors with SportPesa Global Holdings, but filed an appeal with the Nairobi Court of Appeal questioning “the issuance of the gaming licence to Pevans East Africa t/a SportPesa.”
The irony here is big, because the appeal was filed in mid-2019 after the BCLB revoked the betting licence of SportPesa due to the Kenya Revenue Authority’s heavy-handed crackdown on dozens of betting operators over contested back-tax claims.
The licence appeal of SportPesa will not be heard until 16 November, and thus Maina confirmed that Milestone is barred from using the trade name SportPesa, as well as the online betting domains in which the relaunched SportPesa was operating and the pay bills by which online betting transactions are processed by the sites.
The BCLB seems to have been irked by the decision of Milestone to operate under a brand name other than that for which a licence has been given and to choose to do so without notifying the BCLB or obtaining its approval.
The BCLB said Milestone is free to operate under its own domains, although only a ‘coming soon’ splash screen is currently shown on the Milestonebet.co.ke domain. The domain ke.sportpesa.com remains unchanged from Friday and the official Twitter account of SportPesa Kenya has yet to acknowledge any problems with its operations.