Nairobi Judge Suspends Gambling Ad Ban Due to Musician’s Complaint

Friday, May 24th, 2019 | Written by April Bergman
Nairobi Judge Suspends Gambling Ad Ban Due to Musician’s Complaint

Nairobi high court Judge James Makau suspended a ban on gambling ads after a famous musician complained the ban robbed him of celebrity endorsements. Muriji Kamau Wanjohi called the ban “irrational and unreasonable” in a court filing.

Muriji Kamau Wanjohi filed the legal case after Kenya’s government instituted a ban on gambling advertisments. The new policy prohibited celebrities from sports or entertainment appearing on gambling-related adverts.

The ban was comprehensive, involving billboards, tv ads, radio commercials, or online ads. Kamau Wanjohi’s lawyers argued the ban undercut Kenyan celebrities’ ability to make money from their image or endorsement.

Dennis Murithi, the lawyer for Wanjohi, told Reuters, “My client’s economic rights and those of other celebrities’ were in danger.”

“Influence and Celebrity Status”

The court case argued that the ban deprived Wanjohi and others like him of income. Murithi wrote in a legal filing, Wanjohi “earns a living thorough endorsement of products and services due to his influence and celebrity status.”

Record sales are a small part of the revenues 21st century musicians make in the era of streaming services. Live concerts and paid endorsements are the lifeblood of a Kenyan’s record artists’ earnings, so a court taking away one revenue stream inflicts a severe hardship.

Temporary Halt to Gambling Ad Ban

Judge James Makau did not entirely rule in Wanjohi’s favor. Instead, he issued a temporary injunction, so the musician’s petition can be considered. The judge’s decision puts a halt on implementation of the new regulations until the court considers Wanjohi’s case.

Kenya’s gambling industry has grown significantly in the last 5 years. From 2 billion shillings ($19.8 million) in 2014, the industry now generates 200 billion shillings ($1.98 billion), according to the Interior Ministry.

Kenya’s Youth Gambling Problem

Much of that money comes from Kenya’s millennial gamblers who use their smartphones to bet on football matches. More than one Kenyan leader has called for measures to combat problem gambling, or otherwise limit the spread of smartphone betting

One way to limit sports betting was to ban gambling advertisements. Without a great deal of public debate, Kenya’s Treasury Ministery and Interior Ministery banned gambling advertisements.

Kenyan Tax Law Amendment Bill

Longtime Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyanan approved the Kenyan Tax Law (Amendment) Bill in 2018, which opened the door to sweeping revisions of Kenya’s gambling law. When President Kenyanan signed the bill, the Financial and National Planning Committee chairman (Joseph Limo) praised the law for giving the state a better chance to raise taxes through gaming.

At the time, raising funds seemed to be the biggest concern. Minister Limo said, “To be able to increase the tax base to also include winnings that form approximately 88% of all the revenues generated from these activities and because this is the first time taxation is being introduced, the [National Planning] Committee was of the view that 20% is too high. Hence the adoption of 10% for both residents and non-residents.”

Later, as Kenyan youth began to show signs of problem gambling, the priorities changed.

Fred Matiangi on Gambling Ad Ban

When he imposed the new gambling ad ban, Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said, “Rogue behaviour in the betting and lotteries industry is endangering the lives of our young people. This clean up has just started and we will carry it through no matter what it takes, because young Kenyan lives are worth saving.”

Matiangi later posted justification for the ban on his Twitter feed, stating, “76 percent of youth in Kenya are bettors — this is the highest figure in Africa.”

Muriji Kamau Wanjohi Files Suit

It seemed like a no-brainer decision, because younger players would not be bombarded with influential commercials all hours of the day. But until Muriji Kamau Wanjohi filed his suit, no one seems to have considered celebrity endorsers.