Bet on the future: Africa’s online gambling industry

Many leading iGaming operators now see Africa as a lucrative region to expand in. Thanks to their economic dynamism and enthusiasm for online sports betting, countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya present plenty of opportunities for investors. This article will cover the legislation, taxation policies, and trends of Africa’s online gambling industry.

In recent years, the stars have aligned to make Africa a tempting market for investors in the iGaming industry. The sustained economic growth of the continent, combined with an acceleration in the rate of affordable mobile broadband penetration and the willingness by local governments to regulate online gambling in order to add a revenue stream to their coffers, have provided fertile ground for the flourishing of dynamic markets filled with dedicated players, particularly passionate about the sports betting side of the industry.

Keep reading to take a closer look at Africa's largest markets, which currently are South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. In this article we'll also cover some of the other key countries for the industry: the already mentioned Tanzania, plus Ghana and Uganda.

An overview of online gambling in Africa

Having experienced steady growth for the last quarter-century, only interrupted due to the deleterious effects of Covid-19, African economies are, as a whole, on the rise. Having weathered the pandemic storm with more contained losses than other continents, Africa looks to resume its march towards economic relevance in 2021 with an average expected GDP growth above 3% for the region.

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The rising disposable income available to some sub-Saharan countries’ burgeoning middle classes, combined with the rapid development of communication infrastructure in the region, makes Africa one of the most exciting sets of markets for investments in the iGaming industry.

As mentioned, a core factor in this upturn is the blossoming throughout the continent of modern infrastructure, highlighted by the increasing availability and falling costs of broadband mobile internet connectivity. African residents now account for 11.5% of all internet users (Q1, 2020).

Given the number of users covered by 3G and 4G networks doubling over the last five years and the cost of both data and smartphones halving during the same period, it's easy to see the possibilities opening up for iGaming companies. While online gambling in Africa has so far been dominated by sports betting companies, which have the advantage of a lightweight product (data consumption-wise), cheap broadband finally opens up the possibility to offer modern casino gaming to local players.

Sports betting currently stands head and shoulders above other forms of gambling in terms of popularity in Africa. Young locals are particularly fond of betting on European football; still, horse racing, rugby, and cricket have a stronghold in the continent's southern tip due to the local sporting and cultural heritage.

 
 

In terms of legislation, the continent is currently a mixed bag. While some countries, like Tanzania, have pioneered the development of gambling regulations in Africa, many others lag behind. Online gambling, in particular, is rarely regulated. On the one hand, this means that foreign operators are free to offer their services throughout much of the continent; on the other, this has created uncertainties in those jurisdictions where regional authorities seek to impose and enforce laws not recognised at a federal level, as in Nigeria's case.

In principle, however, excluding the northernmost part of the continent, very few African countries have cultural or religious prescriptions against gambling, which leaves the door open for comprehensive legalisation and regulation in the future.

What follows is a country-by-country analysis of the key gambling markets in the region.

 

South Africa

South Africa is the largest gambling market in the continent, with some predictions estimating its gross gaming revenue to pass the $2.3 billion mark by 2023. While not as populous as some of its peers, South Africa punches above its weight thanks to Africa's third-highest GDP. The high GDP per capita is reflected in the local purchasing power, significantly greater than that of most of the other countries covered in this article, which provides a solid customer base for investors. The result: nearly half of the continent's GGR can be ascribed to South Africa.

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While the industry’s GGR has experienced a contraction due to the pandemic in 2020 and early 2021, it is expected to bounce back thanks to the recovery of the sports betting segment. Sports betting currently accounts for 24% of the industry revenues, and is expected to double in size within the next five years. It’s estimated that approximately half of the adult South African population places sports bets on a regular basis. Other than football and horse racing, the most betted-on sports are cricket, rugby, and golf.

Despite all of the positives, South Africa presents a fundamental limitation: the ban on online casino gaming. The National Gambling Act of 2004 prohibited the offering and participation in "interactive games" online, a definition which includes all games of chance, including slots and card games. Betting on sports and horse racing in physical or online venues authorised by one of the nine provincial licensing authorities (PLAs) is the only form of gambling allowed.

While the legalisation of online casino gaming is often debated, with a 2016 amendment bill currently under review, as things stand South Africa is only worth considering for investments in the sports betting sector – one for which, on the other hand, it can be regarded as the mecca of the continent.

For reference, the application fee for new bookmakers in the Western Cape province amounts to just over $800, which is about the same as the annual fees for continuing operations.

Nigeria

Nigeria has by far the largest population and gross domestic product in Africa, slightly surpassing the 200 million and $443 billion marks respectively according to 2020 data. It's no surprise then that the country represents the largest gambling market by GGR in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 7% of the continent total.

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The gambling ban to which Nigeria was subject was lifted in 2004, opening the door to investment in the sector.

Much like in the rest of the continent, online sports betting accounts for the vast majority of the GGR. In total, Nigerians spend on bets a very respectable $2 billion a year.

According to a 2014 poll, roughly 30% of the population places sports bets daily: that’s a market of over 65 million punters!

Online gambling is not yet regulated at the federal level. There is currently a conflict between the national regulatory body, the Nigeria Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), and the Lagos State Lotteries Board (LSLB), each claiming the prerogative to impose regulation and collect licensing fees.

The cost of obtaining and renovating a license depends on the regulatory body. For example, in the case of a sportsbook license, the LSLB charges $1,300 for the application, $130,000 for the first year, and about $26,000 for each renewal.

Kenya

The Kenyan online gambling market has been regulated with the Gaming Bill of 2019. However, the industry suffered a severe hit in the country when, in the same year, the local government threatened the introduction of a 20% tax on stakes in addition to the existing 15% tax on the GGR accrued. Major players decided to leave Kenya, leaving space for new challengers willing to take the risk of investing in an unstable environment.

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While the Kenyan market remains one of the largest in Africa, the wrangling between authorities and operators took its toll, with the domestic GGR for 2020 falling to $175 million from a peak of $300 million in 2018.

Kenya’s gambling market is, much like the rest of the continent, dominated by sports betting. It is estimated that about 7 million Kenyans are currently registered for gambling services, with plenty of young punters particularly fond of football.

Licenses to operate are issued by the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB). An application will cost locals about $4,200, while foreigners are charged almost double that amount; yearly renewal fees amount to just over $1,000 for both Kenya- and foreign-based operators.

Tanzania

Much like many other African countries, Tanzania has seen a rapid uptick in online gambling as its mobile broadband infrastructure has expanded.

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Through the Gaming Board of Tanzania, the local government was quick to implement legislation to regulate the industry (Internet Gaming Regulations, 2012) and turn it into a significant source of income for the state. In 2019 the law was updated, among other things putting an end to the ban on gambling advertising.

Tanzania chose to adopt high-tech solutions to make the reporting process as operator-friendly as possible, introducing an API that automatically records every bet placed on online platforms.

Licenses can be obtained for both online casinos and online sportsbooks, and the gross gaming revenues are taxed at 25% for both types of operation.

Ghana

The Gaming Commission of Ghana has been working on a comprehensive regulatory framework for a few years, which created a very welcoming environment for onshore operators.

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The Ghanaian market, albeit not as large as that of some other African countries, is sizeable and in constant expansion; most importantly, it is among the most stable in the continent legislation-wise.

Licenses issued by the Gaming Commission vary in cost depending on the type of operation they allow. The one for sportsbooks will set investors back about $40,000, while the one for casinos a hefty $50,000. Other than covering the licensing fees, operators have to apply VAT to their services. It's good to keep in mind that Ghanaian authorities are considering the introduction of a gambling-specific tax.

Uganda

Uganda introduced a comprehensive regulatory framework in 2016, the Lotteries and Gaming Act. While this law doesn't explicitly apply to online gambling operations, sportsbook offering their services via the internet are formally licensed by the country's National Gaming Board.

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Uganda has experienced a boom in gambling, and particularly sports betting, over the past few decades; this was reflected in the exponentially increasing tax revenues reaped by the government. For this reason, the 2019 announcement by local officials that online gambling would have been halted came as something of a surprise. Fortunately, the proposal was retracted just a few days later, but the stir it caused speaks volumes about the region's investment climate's fundamental instability.

Ugandans are estimated to spend an average of over $40 million on gambling products each year. Tax revenues for sports betting alone amounted to about $12 million in 2018, up from $3 million in 2013-2014 and $66,000 in 2003-2004 – the numbers of a veritable booming growth for the sector, as we hinted to above.

Investors have to obtain licenses awarded by the National Gaming Board. The application fee is of about $5,500 for sportsbooks and $13,600 for casinos. These prices are intended for foreigners – the fees are lower for locals. Licensing fees are respectively $2,700 and $4,000.

Gambling operators are subject to a tax of 20% on the gross gaming revenue and are mandated to withhold 15% of players’ winnings.

How can Slotegrator help?

 
 

With their ever-evolving regulatory landscapes, African gambling markets require potential operators to have a strong understanding of the industry and the trends and specificities of the jurisdiction in which they choose to operate. Our jurisdictional advisory services can help you pick the right market for your business needs and acquire all the necessary licenses.

To meet local players’ preferences and make the most of the possibilities offered by African markets, you can rely on Sportegrator, our fully customisable online sportsbook solution.

If you want to learn more about the African iGaming markets, watch our free webinar “Striking while the iron is hot: how to launch an online gambling project in Africa”, originally streamed on April 13th, 2021. To access it, just click the button below.

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