Bookmakers and Online Casinos Eye Africa

Africa has long been considered to be the next major growth area for the gambling sector. Progress has not been as fast as anticipated so far, but there are signs the continent will begin to embrace online casinos and bookmakers in a big way in the near future.

Technology has played a key role, with telecommunications supplier Ericsson forecasting that around a billion people living in Sub-Saharan Africa will have a mobile phone by 2023. Internet access is also becoming easier to find for a lot of Africans and the combination of more widespread WiFi and many people have mobile phones now has made betting more possible.

But what does this mean for the future of betting in Africa? Mason Jones from NoDepositRewards noted that: “Africa could be the next big growth market for the gambling industry. Many companies are keeping a very close eye on the continent.”

Here, we will analyse the past, present and future of the gambling industry in Africa.

Africa’s gambling history

Betting can be traced back as far as the late 1600s in Africa, with horse racing having been a popular pastime in the north of the continent in particular for hundreds of years.

South Africa also has a long and proud history of horse racing, while it is thought greyhound racing was around in the times of Ancient Egypt, although it is hard to prove this was the case. The Jockey Club of South Africa – known these days as the National Horse Racing Authority – was founded all the way back in 1882.

In the modern world, less developed countries understandably lacked the things many people take for granted in the West, such as the proliferation of betting shops and land-based casinos. But things are changing fast all over the continent now, with bookmakers keen to move in.

Is online betting legal in Africa?

Africa is obviously a vast continent and laws vary from country to country, while regulations are often being revised to acknowledge the rise in online gambling. As an example, let’s take a look at South Africa, where betting via the internet is illegal. The minister of trade and industry in South Africa, Dr Rob Davies, has warned citizens they are breaking the law by gambling online.

Last year, a group of South African illegal gamblers even had their winnings confiscated and forfeited to the state, demonstrating just how seriously this law is taken in this part of the world.

Caroline Kongwa of the Accounting Authority of the National Gambling Board told people they could also be liable to face criminal prosecution should they be caught gambling illegally. Many would question why betting on horse racing is allowed but gambling online is banned, however.

Other countries have shown a more liberal attitude towards their gambling industries. The Gambia banned betting in 2015 but lifted the restrictions just two years later. President Adama Barrow cancelled the ban imposed by predecessor Yahya Jammeh, citing the sector’s ability to provide widespread employment.

A similar move could therefore be taken in a lot of other African countries that are struggling to find a way forward for their economies in the 21st century. Not everyone has welcomed the Gambia’s decision, though, with religious leaders suggesting gambling is not acceptable.

Balancing the wishes of the people who want to have a bet legally, politicians eager to use betting taxes to prop up struggling economies and religious figures who would like to ban betting entirely is going to be one of the major challenges facing Africa in the coming years. Keeping a lid on gambling addiction across a continent with lots of employment challenges will be tough.

Pace of growth hard to predict

Many organisations have attempted to track the growth of Africa’s gambling industry. But the reports released so far appear to indicate that there is a difference of opinion regarding how quickly the sector is expanding in various nations located around the continent. How fast bookmakers and casinos can take advantage of changes in legislation could be key.

A gambling outlook published by PwC looking at the African gambling market between 2017 and 2021 predicted a rise of almost four per cent in total gross gambling revenue during that period. Horse racing, sports and fixed odds betting is expected to expand at a faster rate of over eight per cent over that four years, according to the research published by PwC.

Casino gross gambling revenues were revealed in the PwC data to have declined for the first time since 1997. The company said this was “reflecting the tough economic conditions and the impact of illegal gambling”, while noting that other segments showed continued growth in 2016.

Nigeria is one of the biggest markets for gambling in Africa, with gross gambling revenue in 2014 found to be $40 million, almost doubling from the figure of $22 million recorded in 2009. Nigeria’s gross gambling revenues have been predicted to increase by more than 15 per cent during the course of the next five years, which would certainly be a boost for the economy.

The rise of smartphones in Kenya has fuelled the rapid growth of gambling in the country, where a third of people now use their phone for betting, according to data from the Digital Skills Observatory. Kenya’s betting revenue could grow to as much as KSh5.1 billion by 2020, which would be a rise of well over 100 per cent in just six years. 

The future of the gambling industry in Africa

With such a wide spread of attitudes towards gambling across Africa, predicting what will happen next in the continent’s betting industry is very difficult indeed.

But it seems likely that legalisation will slowly come to those countries where betting online is still banned, with government expected to be attracted by the taxes they could generate.

Bookmakers and online casino companies from all over the world are already exploring the possibilities that will be on show in Africa, while local firms will be keen for a piece of the pie.

It promises to be an exciting time for Africa, but balancing the needs and desires of everyone in society regarding betting legality – or otherwise – is going to be far from easy.

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