KENYA: Betin sues Safaricom to unblock pay links


Betting firm Betin Kenya is seeking a court order against Safaricom to unblock M-Pesa pay bills and SMS short codes the telco suspended following a government order.

The firm wants the court to order Safaricom to lift the suspension on the payment systems and direct the telco to unblock its M-Pesa pay bills and SMS shortcodes.

The State through the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) ordered Safaricom on July 10 to suspend M-Pesa payment systems and SMS codes for 27 betting firms including SportPesa and Betin because their operating licences for the year starting July 1 were not renewed.

Betin Kenya said the withdrawal of the operating licence was illegal, arguing it had a court order stopping the withdrawal of its betting permit.

“The interested party (Safaricom) be directed to unblock the applicant’s pay bill account numbers 997270 and 244449, which it disabled on July 12,” said Betin Kenya in a court petition.

“The interested party be directed to refrain from giving effect to or acting on any directive by the respondent (BCLB) in relation to the applicants pay bill account numbers pending the hearing and determination of this application.”

High Court judge Weldon Korir directed that Safaricom and BCLB — gambling regulator — to respond to the application before acting on Betin Kenya application.

The suit will be heard this Friday.

The BCLB said the 27 firms are yet to meet undisclosed licensing requirements and are being vetted to establish if they are fit to hold gambling permits.

The order came weeks after the State said it had refused to renew operating permits for 19 gambling firms and deferred eight others in a shake-up of an industry that generates more than Sh200 billion in annual sales.

Safaricom earlier said the orders, which has affected 12 million betting accounts, has left it at a crossroads because firms like SportPesa and Betin have secured orders to continue operating. SportPesa has sued for compensation.

The freeze of the pay bill numbers prevented new deposits for bets and while allowing those who had money in them 48 hours to withdraw it, grounding the betting firms that rely on M-Pesa mobile cash platform for stakes and payment of winnings.

Kenya last week deported 17 foreign directors of the betting firms including nationals of Bulgaria, Italy, Russia and Poland following the licensing row.