Only days after president Yoweri Museveni ordered a ban on all forms of gambling in Uganda, his finance minister tempers the ban to only foreign companies. Whichever direction Uganda goes, the shockwaves of this ‘flip-flopping’ can be felt as far as Nairobi.
Two thousand Ugandan gaming companies are hanging by a thread after their president announced a comprehensive ban on all forms of gambling in January.
Speaking at a conference on behalf of president Yoweri Museveni, finance minister for planning, David Bahati, told the crowd: “Gambling, sports betting and gambling, there is no renewal of the licences of the companies that are operating. No new companies are going to be licensed, that is what the president has said…The president has directed.”
Yet within a day of the story breaking the ban had become a ‘review’, with the government shifting its position so that only foreign companies, those ‘repatriating’ Ugandan gambling revenues, would be banned. But given the flippancy, few assurances were felt.
“We’re not banning gaming, we’re saying this activity should be limited to only Ugandans,” said Finance Minister Matia Kasaija.
“We have said that licensees that are running will not be renewed and new ones will not be issued to foreigners because we’ve discovered so much of our money is being exported through that gaming thing which as far as I am concerned has little value to the economy.”
“The government’s aim is to strengthen the regulatory framework by reviewing the betting sector in order to regulate the number of betting companies because there are complaints that they are mushrooming everywhere.”
No one knows when, or indeed if, this order will be implemented. Samuel Mutekanga from Betway, told the media that his company had not been consulted.
“Today you’re banning tomorrow you’re not. It’s a very quick backtrack; a complete flip flop,” said a local gaming lawyer, speaking to iGaming Times anonymously.
“It’s an unfortunate development for the market, when you’re trying to attract foreign investment on the one hand, and then on the other you’re making statements like this.”
The source explained that religious leaders had pressured the government for a ban due to the effects gambling was having on Uganda’s youth.
The move is particularly disappointing, he said, given it reverses a modernising direction of travel since the National Gaming Board was established in 2016 – that was even looking towards regulating the online sector, and eventually issuing international licences.
The government’s position is now unclear. And we still don’t know what a Ugandan company is. “Should it be 100 percent Ugandan owned, or just Ugandan incorporated? We’ve seen this debate go on in oil and gas.”
The frivolity is already likely to damage sentiment, given the apparent ease with which the government is willing and able to shut down the sector, without any new legislation, simply by stopping licences.
The ban will hit Sportpesa, for one, a Kenyan firm that has recently touted Uganda as the next frontier for African gaming growth and began its own operations there late in 2017. Kenyan media is already asking whether its own government should do the same.
Yet neither an outright ban nor restrictions on foreign investment will do much to stop people from gambling, without any acknowledgement of the still unregulated online sector.
“How will people be stopped from gambling online?” asked Muhammad Nsereko, a Ugandan MP. “We are living in a global village, a person can bet from Uganda with odds provided in Kenya or Germany and thereafter be paid through the mobile market. What will the failure to license sports betting cure?”