The Consumer Federation of Kenya (COFEK) has accused the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) of “continuously” failing to protect consumers from predatory advertising practices by its licensees.
COFEK, an apolitical non-profit society focused on consumer protection, expressed its concerns in an open letter published on August 10.
The letter takes aim at the lack of rules to prevent operators from promoting their services on certain internet browsers targeting Kenyan consumers.
“Alarmingly, these omitted channels host significant advertising activities and are instrumental in swaying behavioral change. Based on our research and consultations with line experts, we hereby confirm that browser providers, such as Opera, have introduced a ‘speed dial’ feature, specifically curated for the Kenyan market,” COFEK said.
The speed dial feature provided links to betting firms on its homepage, which COFEK says ensures the adverts are seen regardless of the user’s age.
Local media reports on August 15 claimed that the BCLB has addressed the issue raised by COFEK by demanding that gambling operators stop promoting their services on Opera without receiving regulatory approval to do so.
Opera, through its flagship product Opera Mini, offers users in Kenya the ability to browse the internet while using less data, making it a popular choice for millions of Kenyans.
“It particularly creates a significant risk to millions of minors with and or those who can intermittently access smartphones – either with and or without the express permission of their parents and or guardians,” COFEK said.
COFEK says advertising on the browser was in breach of the Communication Authority of Kenya’s child online protection campaign, which aims to balance a child’s right to information access with protection from potential harm arising from internet products.
“This glaring gap in advertising regulations is an alarming issue that requires urgent redress. The implications are far-reaching as they not only expose our young ones to age-inappropriate content but also fuel an unregulated gambling culture that has seen an alarming increase in addiction among the youth, with Opera benefiting at the expense of Kenyan society more so our innocent children,” COFEK said.
Kenya recently introduced a 15 percent excise duty fee for advertising on television, in print media, on billboards and radio stations, which applies to alcoholic beverages and all forms of gambling.
Njuguna Ndung’u, the National Treasury and Economic Planning Cabinet's secretary, dismissed calls from the Media Owners Association (MOA) of Kenya to not go ahead with the tax, calling gambling “harmful”, especially “to the youth and families”.
Kenya’s government has advanced its plans in recent months to update its gambling laws and increase revenue collection from the sector, as it looks to introduce a new set of gambling laws, create a new regulator and establish a National Lottery.
The three separate bills covering these topics were unveiled in March 2023, with updated revised versions published in May 2023.