When most gambling players and providers think of their preferred target markets, they are unlikely to think of Africa. Infrastructure in many parts of Africa is lacking due to historic absence of investment, and the region has not caught up in the same way as other parts of the world. The sort of liberal, Western laws around social and cultural freedoms that might be observed in markets such as Europe or North America do not exist to the same degree, and outright bans on casino and sports betting are not uncommon.

But the reality is that Africa does hold some potential to be the world’s next big sports betting market. Revenue from the casino industry already in existence is well north of US$1 billion, and the fact that smartphone penetration is so high (and likely to rise) also bodes well. This article will explore this situation in greater detail and look at why Africa stands to be one of the world’s next big gambling hotspots.

Current situation

Frustratingly for many would-be gamblers on the African continent, the provision for sports betting and casino sites is quite low. This is a direct consequence of prohibitive laws that regulate sports and casino betting, which can often have different origins and reasons for existence, depending on the history of the country in question. In Algeria, for example, the dominant Islamic culture has led to a ban on casinos, while in Niger, the general political instability in the country appears to have stymied the development of a gambling culture.

However, there are some African countries in which gambling is permitted. South Africa has one of the most liberal sets of gambling laws on the African continent, which is not surprising given the extent to which the country tends to lead the way for the continent on social freedoms. Overall, casinos in the country have been found by some recent studies to earn the equivalent of over US$1.5 billion per year. Kelvin Jones, senior editor of PlayCasino, pointed out that “for many years, South Africa’s online gambling industry has been operating in a grey zone”, adding that “millions of South Africans already play at regulated, licensed offshore sites that are fully focused on the local player and even allow them to pay in ZAR”.

One of South Africa’s neighbors, Botswana, has followed in its footsteps by introducing a gambling act that regulates gambling providers and gives out licenses. Further north, countries such as Ghana also enjoy a thriving gambling scene. The Gaming Act 2006 in Ghana means that betting on sports such as horseracing is certainly possible – and crucially, can be done both in person at physical outlets as well as online. What this shows is that there is definitely a demand for gambling here, even despite the fact that disposable incomes are often low. Yet this does not appear to have dampened appetite for gambling provision – and could even be enhancing it.

Potential for the future?

There are some seeds of hope for both providers and gamblers who are looking forward to a future period of enhanced gambling tolerance. The first reason for this is due to underlying trends in technology. Smartphone penetration in Africa is high: one study has found that 475 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone will be on the web using mobile technology, in just five years’ time.

In addition, well over a quarter of mobile internet connections are expected to be using fast 4G technology by then – allowing gambling apps to be downloaded faster, and real-time games to be enjoyed in a more consistent and user-friendly way. For a gambling provider, this means that the technological infrastructure is largely in place – and that it is, ultimately, a public affairs campaign that is required in order to get around issues of legality.

In short, gambling in sub-Saharan Africa is not yet a widespread pastime. In some countries, potential gamblers and online casino providers are finding themselves barred by prohibitive laws that prevent the opening of casinos and online betting environments. Even in countries where sports betting and casino gambling is permitted, laws affecting online gambling make the situation even more complex.

But there are signs that this is changing, thanks to the fact that the African continent is becoming increasingly mobile and tech-savvy. Once gambling providers are able to overcome the legal hurdles facing these potential target markets, it may well be that Africa becomes the next big market for sports betting.