Sports Betting in Africa- What is fuelling it?

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A few days ago I watched a video of Tanzania fan of Yanga (Young Africans Sports Club) talking about how he was feeling bad after losing the match to arch rival Simba (Simba Sports Club). What made it interesting was when the young man revealed that he had put a bet with rival fan where the prize was his wife.  I saw the passion for the game but it sounded weird that people can go to that extent. Since then I found out that this is something that has happened before and that made me think hard  about the effect of sports betting in Africa and what has fueled it in the last few years.

 

From African perspective the people participating on sports betting can be grouped into three categories: The hard core gamblers, Those who are out to make a kill and sometime go to extent of getting involved in match fixing, and finally The casual/small time gamblers and those who do it for the love of the game.  The young Yanga fan mentioned above fall on the third category. Those who do it because of the love of the game, usually put a wager based on their emotions and not necessarily with the material gain in mind.  The Yanga fan realized that betting using his wife as a prize was not a good idea after his team had lost and was publicly asking the rival fan for forgiveness. He also seemed to have matured through the experience saying that young people should know it is just a game and sometimes your team wins and sometime it loses.

The second category include the people who have really made the sport betting to grow in some African countries over the last few years.  There is no conclusive report ranking the sports betting in Africa but PWC tried by looking at three countries that are considered to be the leading betting markets; South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.  According to that report South Africa has the largest overall gambling market, with gross casino gambling revenues totaled around $1.2 billion in 2014 compared with $35.5 million in Nigeria and $15.6 million in Kenya.

Going deeper on that report, it is important to note that apart from South Africa the figures for the other countries might not be that accurate.  PWC mentioned that for South Africa, the National Gambling Board of South Africa was the source for historical data. With regard to Nigeria, figures were derived and extrapolated from selected company information. While Kenya, figures were derived and extrapolated from casino taxes.  Take for example Kenya, Casino taxes in Kenya does not give a true picture with what is happening with the whole betting landscape. The keen observers would agree that sport betting is practically now bigger than other forms of gambling in Kenya. And this can be illustrated by the success of SportPesa, with estimated 100 billion shillings ($1 billion) of annual revenue. The company which now prides itself as being among the global brands, has interest in UK, as main shirt sponsor for the Everton FC. This year, it has spread its tentacles to include Formula one, by sponsoring the Racing Point team, formerly known as Force India.

South Africa, the home of some of the top sports betting sites in Africa, is unique in many ways. While Football which is also known as the soccer in some parts of the world is the dominant component of the sports betting in most African countries, Horseracing is the main sport for most gamblers in South Africa.

Based on my conversation with a number of sport fans and writers, the following are some of the main drivers of sports betting in Africa

Internet

Internet changed almost every industry in the world and I was not surprised to hear many fans mentioned it as the main piece of technology that has really changed the sports betting industry. The use of internet has allowed sport betting companies to develop sites and apps that can be accessed from the comfort of the fans’ devices. When I was young, proper betting on sports meant one had to go to casino but most people were not keen on it. So in some cases friends used to bet on which team will win in a particular football match. At that point it was always about two individuals promising to pay each other if a certain outcome of the game came to be true. One could pay through actual cash or simply buying beers for the winning party. All that changed with the internet which most people can access through their mobile phones

Mobility and efficiency

The use of mobile phones has enabled people to put the bets at any given time and not restricted with their surroundings.  Sport betting is now being done on the go, whether at the work place or while resting at home.  And with Sub Saharan Africa considered as the fastest growing region on the mobile uptake according to GSMA, the sport betting industry is poised to take advantage of the new mobile phone users in the coming years.  Around a third of the mobile users in Africa, 250 million, have a smartphone.

Mobile Payment platforms

The use of mobile money transfers and payment platforms like Safaricom MPESA in Kenya has changed how people make payments for their betting odds.  SportPesa in particular realized the potential of the mobile payment systems right from the beginning and their success in Kenya is largely attributed to the ubiquitous use of MPESA in Kenya.

Mainstreaming of Sports Betting by African societies

For a long time in many African societies a gambler was considered to be flawed in character. That also explain why casinos seem to be hidden and more exclusive in their design. Technology and specifically mobile phones changed all that. At the same time the mainstream media in the face of their own challenges, gave the sports betting platforms to reach the masses. In Kenya for example sports betting is now among the leading sources of advertising for most media houses.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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