Kenyan betting firms say payment systems suspended following govt order

NAIROBI, July 12 (Reuters) - Kenyan betting firms SportPesa and Betin Kenya said on Friday their payment systems had been suspended, days after the government ordered telecoms firm Safaricom to stop processing payments for sports betting companies.

Online sports betting companies such as SportPesa have grown rapidly in the East African nation in recent years, riding a wave of enthusiasm for sports to achieve combined revenue of 204 billion shillings ($2 billion) last year.

However, that has sparked government concern about the social impact of betting. In May, the country introduced new gambling regulations, including banning advertising outdoors and on social media.

“SportPesa is extremely disappointed by the recent actions by Betting Control & Licensing Board to block our payments despite the existence of a court order,” it said in a statement.

“We wish to assure our customers and stakeholders that we are challenging these actions...”

The gaming companies largely rely on Safaricom’s market leading network to take bets, communicate with users and process payments on the firm’s popular M-Pesa mobile cash platform.

Each betting firm is assigned a unique number, known as a paybill, which is used to process payments from users who place bets on their mobile phones and to pay those who win.

Betin Kenya also confirmed its paybill had been disabled, preventing new deposits, while allowing those who had money with them to withdraw it.

The two firms, among the biggest in the sector, were among 27 firms whose betting licences had not been renewed, pending the outcome of an ongoing inquiry about their suitability to operate in the country. (Reporting by George Obulutsa; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)