Understanding Gambling in Rwanda

Gambling provisions and regulations vary wildly between the different African countries, with some banning all forms of gambling and others turning a blind eye. Central Africa has some of the most changeable governments, so it might surprise many to find out that Rwanda has imposed strict rules on casinos wishing to operate in the country. These rules are not meant to deter casinos, as Rwanda is actively seeking to build a successful gambling industry, but rather to make sure that they operate in a safe and fair way.

Having a well-regulated gambling industry can hugely benefit the country, and Rwanda seems to be taking steps in the right direction. In countries where gambling is illegal, there are often underground venues and unregulated games happening, with no protection for those who want to play. By making sure everything is above board, the Rwandan government is able to hold casinos accountable for their actions. This also includes making sure that the operators pay their taxes – and these taxes directly benefit the country as a while because they are paid back into public services. 

All gambling operations in Rwanda require a licence, and these are given out by Lotto Rwanda, the government agency responsible for regulating gambling in the country. Applications for a casino licence cost RWF 1,500,000, and the same again as a yearly fee. Applicants must provide evidence of insurance, tax certificates, citizenship of the directors, as well as proving that they pay social security contributions for their staff. The first licence was issued in 2008 and now Rwanda has three casinos, all operating from Kigali – Casino Kigali, New Oriental Casino, and Lydia Ludic Rwanda. All three offer a mixture of table games and slot machines.

Casino Kigali is the oldest land-based casino in Rwanda, being the recipient of the original licence in 2008. The casino has moved venues a couple of times and now resides at the Lemigo Hotel. There is an on-site sports bar with three large HD TVs and a restaurant serving delicious food. But the main attractions are on the casino floor, where players can find hundreds of different slot games hosted on the 30 multi-game machines, as well as automated roulette and poker tables featuring perennial favourite Texas Hold ‘Em, there’s games featuring experienced players, so get some practice in and read up on some advanced poker tips if you have any hope at all of walking away with some francs. 

Rwanda’s second casino – Lydia Ludic Rwanda – didn’t open until 2014, and the most recent casino took its first customers in 2017. The New Orient Casino is based at the Dmall Hotel in Kigali and holds the title of Rwanda’s largest casino. 8 table games and 24 slot machines jostle for floor space, and there is also a restaurant, a snack bar, and a sports bar which can hold up to 60 guests. 

So far, the casino options in Rwanda seem rather limited. They are all similar in terms of size and the type of games available. Add to that the fact that they are all in Kigali, and people might start to wonder whether Lotto Rwanda is placing too many limitations on who can apply for a licence. Not that the country wants to see disreputable enterprises springing up, but in order to allow its fledgling gambling industry to spread and grow, they might need to consider whether the fees they are charging or the demands on the nationalities of shareholders are too high.

One area which Lotto Rwanda needs to consider for the future is online gambling. There are currently no Rwandan-based online casinos operating, not even linked to the existing casinos. This is a huge section of the industry which is being missed out on as revenue is leaving the country. There are currently no restrictions placed on citizens using online foreign-based websites, even though these are not subject to the same stringent licensing laws as land-based casinos. These foreign online casinos are not required to pay taxes to the Rwandan government, and until the government extends licensing laws to online casinos, they will continue to get away with not contributing to the economy.

There is clearly a demand for gambling in Rwanda, as online casinos are doing a roaring trade. However the land-based casino provision is lacking, with two of them operating out of hotels. The government should consider issuing more licences to casinos and establishing them in cities across the country, rather than clustering them in the capital. A custom-built casino resort, in the style of those in South Africa, could prove to be a real draw for the tourists and provide a much-needed boost to the economy. It’s certainly something for the government to think about.