Africa has grabbed the industry’s attention as home to a number of emerging markets, but at the southern tip of the continent lies its third-biggest economy and biggest betting market. Keep reading to find out why South Africa is a prime destination for online sportsbook operators — and how entrepreneurs can get their business going.
Sports fans around the world heighten the excitement of watching a game or match by pitting their intuition against bookmakers’ odds — and as our world becomes more and more tech-centric, sports betting is moving online alongside everything else.
Regulations are a concern for operators in every market. When it comes to legislation, online sportsbooks have one big edge over online casinos — there are more countries that prohibit online casino gaming but allow sports betting than vice versa.
With the right products, the right marketing strategies, and (perhaps most importantly) the right odds, a well-run online sportsbook can be a healthy source of revenue.
Emerging markets across Africa are catching the eye of operators and investors in the industry. But the Republic of South Africa has long been established as a prominent, thriving market, one that could provide operators with a solid base to build on while they’re expanding across the rest of the continent into bet-loving countries like Nigeria and Kenya.
While a few decades ago nearly all forms of gambling were banned in the country, today it has a vibrant gambling market, driven in a large part by a well-established land-based casino sector and a substantial and fast-growing sports betting segment. Getting a bookmaker’s license in South Africa is looking like a better idea every day.
The South African betting market
South Africa has the continent’s third-highest GDP, behind Egypt and fellow sports betting hotbed Nigeria. With the country’s widespread love of sports, it’s no wonder that it’s also Africa’s biggest gambling market — South African national GGR is expected to pass $2.3 billion by 2023.
The majority of this revenue is still generated by the land-based casino segment. However, as you can see in the graph below, land-based casino gaming has been declining for years. Even before the worldwide coronavirus pandemic — during which South Africa underwent some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures — the proportion of South Africa’s GGR generated by land-based casino gaming had been on a long decline.
In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, land-based casinos generated 85% of the country’s gambling revenues, compared to only 56% in 2019-2020. While the sector still remains overall the single biggest generator of revenue in the country, an annual report from the National Gambling Board attributed the significant drop-off to market saturation.
While the land-based casino gaming sector has been contracting, South African punters are either growing in numbers or finding new sources of disposable income. Betting on sports and races generated 9.9% of national GGR in 2009-2010. Fast forward ten years, and that number has climbed to 26.8%.
What’s driving the rise in online sports betting? It’s a similar story to the one being played out across much of the rest of Africa: while internet penetration may be lower than in other regions of the globe, smartphone penetration topped 90% in 2019. The easier it gets to bet, the more likely sports fans are to place their wagers.
Revenues from bingo and limited payout machines (such as slots) have also steadily increased, but not to the same degree that sports betting has. For whatever the reason may be, sports betting is generating higher and higher revenues and experiencing accelerating growth. Like everything else in 2021, it’s a safe bet that more and more sports betting will take place online.
Expert predictions — including annual reports on the National Gambling Board’s website — foresee a sustained slump in the casino gaming segment but anticipate further expansion of the sports betting sector.
Graph courtesy of the National Gaming Board of South Africa
How do the provinces break down?
The Republic of South Africa is divided into nine provinces, each of which have their own regulatory authority that oversees gambling and betting. At a federal level, gambling is regulated by the National Gaming Board. National GGR is divided among the country’s nine provinces — but far from equally.
The top three provinces for gambling revenues are Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal. The Western Cape has its second-highest GGR, due to its higher concentration of spending power. Despite being only the fourth-biggest province by population (with a little over 7 million residents, compared to Gauteng’s population of nearly 15.5 million), the Western Cape has the country’s second-biggest provincial GDP.
The Western Cape is a popular destination for sportsbook operators, many of which are licensed by the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board.
It’s a safe guess that the province of operation will determine many aspects of your business. Provinces with higher GDP per capita, such as the Western Cape, will probably see a higher average bet — but maybe less betting frequency — than areas where punters have less spending power.
How do you get a sportsbook license in South Africa?
Each of the country’s nine provinces has its own regulatory body for gambling and betting. The nine authorities are:
Gauteng Gambling Board
Eastern Cape Gambling and Betting Board
Free State Gambling and Racing Board
KwaZulu-Natal Gambling and Racing Board
Limpopo Gambling Board
Mpumalanga Gambling Board
North West Gambling Board
Northern Cape Gambling Board
Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board
Every province will have its own application process and list of requirements to fulfill and paperwork to fill out. Due to the province’s high concentration of wealth, new operators will apply for a license from the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board. Some of the forms you will need in order to apply for a WCGRB license will include (but may not be limited to):
Business Entity Disclosure form
Additional key employee license
Bookmaker premises license application form
Application form for a key employee license
Personal history disclosure
Application by license holder for approval of procurement of financial interest
Operators accustomed to coughing up the high licensing fees in the European market — for example, €25,000 for a single license from the Malta Gaming Authority — could find the licensing fees in South Africa to be a little more inviting. This is a table of costs that might be incurred when applying for a license from the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board.
New license application fee
Annual license fee
Annual investigation fee
Manufacturer / distributor
Totalisor / Operator
To learn more about getting a license for an online gambling project, learn more about our jurisdictional services.
Of course, like punters around the world, South African sports bettors love wagering on both domestic and international (particularly European) football. But the country’s sports bettors are also wildly passionate about rugby, especially the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team.
Horse racing has a long history in the country, as for a long time it was the only available form of betting. South African athletes are also highly competitive on an international level in cricket and golf, both of which the country’s punters enjoy betting on.
What about online casino gaming?
Online slots and other casino games are illegal in South Africa.
There has been a push to legalize online casino games in recent years, but the legislation has gotten bogged down in parliamentary procedures. This situation might change in the future, but for now, the fact remains that sports betting is the only legal form of online gambling in the country.
During the coronavirus pandemic, black market operators based in neighboring Swaziland enjoyed a huge boost in revenue as players took to online gaming platforms while land-based casinos were shuttered.
What are the big names in South African sports betting?
A number of well-established domestic and international sportsbook brands, such as Betway, Bet.co.za, Hollywoodbets, and Supabets are licensed to operate in South Africa — very commonly in the Western Cape.
When it comes to race betting, Gold Circle is the totalizer operator in KwaZulu-Natal, and Phumelela offers horserace betting in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the North West, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, and the Western Cape (on behalf of Kenilworth Racing Trust).
What else can you offer your players?
Online sports betting has proven to be a very flexible and adaptable industry. Alternative betting products like virtual sports and esports have given punters year-round, 24/7 betting options. While live sports events were cancelled or postponed during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, virtual sports operators saw a dramatic increase in activity as action-starved punters turned to wagering on their simulations of sporting events.
What other African countries enjoy sports betting?
Setting up shop in South Africa can provide you with a handy base from which to launch operations in other countries on the continent.
Kenya and Nigeria have made waves as the second- and third-biggest betting markets. Kenyan punters prefer placing a high volume of low-value bets, though the government has recently made several shifts in policy that have left bookmakers wary. In Nigeria, like in South Africa, online sports betting is permitted while online casino games are banned, and betting on football — especially the European leagues — is incredibly popular. Uganda and Tanzania also provide opportunities for online sportsbook operators.
What do you need for an online sportsbook?
While the license is being taken care of, you can get moving on the technical side of your online betting platform.
Quality platform software is absolutely necessary. This includes a powerful and smooth-running backend that will support high volumes of traffic without glitching and a frontend customized to appeal to the tastes (and native language) of your target market. South Africa has eleven national languages, but if you can’t offer a version of your site in all of them, you’ll cast the widest possible net with English and Afrikaans. If you can localize your website in Khosa and Zulu, all the better.
A good platform will also have a bonus module to enhance player retention and reporting tools that track, segment, and analyze your business’s performance so you can stay on top of daily operations.
Of course, an online gaming platform is nothing without content — in this case, betting opportunities. To set odds and give players the up-to-the-minute info they’ve come to expect, you’ll need live data feeds covering a variety of sports disciplines. Punters should always have plenty of events to bet on — many bettors enjoy placing several wagers at once.
Players in different regions have different requirements when it comes to payment processing. Online sportsbooks should always support deposits and withdrawals in the local currency of their market of operation — South African Rand (ZAR) in this case — but cryptocurrencies are exploding in popularity, so it’s not a bad idea to accept Bitcoin or Ethereum.
It’s also important to integrate a range of different payment methods in addition to covering different currencies. Players in many markets — especially African markets — don’t have access to traditional banks, instead making payments through their mobile carrier or through other alternatives like e-wallets. Integrating all these payment systems — and more — will help you make sure a punter is never turned away because they couldn’t make a deposit.
Our sportsbook has a smooth and convenient operating system, a CRM system for effective player retention, a CMS system for content and performance management, and more than 100 payment service operators. With personalized settings, a live sports data feed API with a range of sports, events, bets, and odds, bespoke design, and customizable bonus offers, our sportsbook software will let you offer your players 24/7 betting on the sports of their choice with odds they’ll be dying to try and beat.
If you’re interested in starting an online sportsbook in South Africa — or in any other jurisdiction — get in touch to find out how we can help you get started.
I have over 5 years of experience managing B2B and B2C sales departments in the online gambling industry. I started my career working in customer support for online casinos and grew to become the head of a department offering tailored services to VIP players. I joined Slotegrator with a strong focus on our company’s products and deep knowledge of what players need. My passion for the industry leads me to keep expanding my knowledge every day.