With casinos and bookmakers closing across the continent, Africa is following a familiar trend across the industry as player’s turn from social gambling to social distancing, where online is the only way to play.
The speed and virality of Covid-19 has put Africa’s combat experience in fighting deadly diseases to the test – but will African’s take up online gambling in lieu of casino gaming just as quickly and contagiously?
Cholera, Ebola, Sars, Meningitis; no other disease has brought the continent, and indeed the world, to its knees so effectively. Not only has it taken lives, it’s taken businesses, jobs, and entire industries. Thousands of hotels and casinos across Africa’s many biomes have closed their doors, some for the last time, with the lockdown’s separating player’s from their entertainment of choice. But just because the local casino is closed, it doesn’t mean player’s won’t gamble.
The rise of the mobile in Africa has facilitated a rise in online gambling. While it can’t replace the casino’s ambience and hospitality offers, it does provide an outlet for player’s to keep on playing. Locked down and with nowhere to go, players who can afford to will eventually take a chance on mobile gambling, and governments will begin to see it as an industry worth regulating more closely – a trend that could be a tipping point for a growth in the online industry.
“I foresee a rash of regulatory, policy and legislative activity across the continent to amend online gaming laws, in a bid to block leakages associated with online gambling,” said Yahaya Maikori, senior partner of Law Allianz and co-founder of consultancy firm Global Gaming Group. “South Africa will probably be at the forefront of legitimising online gambling, especially as the casinos – which are significant contributors to the economy – will lose revenue to countries such as Lesotho and Mauritius.”
According to Maikori, online gaming currently accounts for no more than 30 percent of players across the continent. While a lack of sporting events will decrease those betting online, he believes that there will be a fresh appetite for different products.
“For operators which have been locked out of the booming business, this may be the perfect opportunity to introduce and promote games such as poker, esports, online casino, bingo and slots to a market which was fixated with football, and the social experience of retail betting,” continued Maikori. “Mobile games providers and other non-retail technologies can take advantage of the social distancing policy which has curtailed movement, to catch the attention of the retail market as well as engage its customers in a new channel.”
This has already begun to happen in Europe and North America, where data has been shared showing increases to certain online games. While that data is less available across Africa, Maikori acknowledges its “not a stretch to see this pattern replicated”.
“However, such growth may be slower considering affordability issues related to broadband and smart gadgets,” he added. “These concerns notwithstanding, this pandemic may be the tipping point for online gambling in Africa.”
Whether that will be the case or not depends on the continued severity of the pandemic and how Africa plays its card going forward. Maikori warned that “there may be several waves of infection, leading to several rounds of global economic shutdown until a vaccine is discovered”. While their responses to Covid-19 have generally been just as professional, many African nations have less resources than equivalently sized European nations. This makes solutions and recovery that much more of a challenge, meaning the economic scar the disease leaves on the continent may be deeper than in Europe or North America. Africa, however, is used to bearing scars. While 2020 will not be a year of strong growth for gaming in Africa, casinos operators will look to bounce back from the disappointment as soon as lockdown ends, albeit in the face of stiffer, more established competition from the online sector. In the end, this will only increase the quality of entertainment on offer for players, which in turn will give the industry wider appeal.
The rise of gaming in Africa remains inevitable, the severity of lockdowns across the continent in coming months will decide how much of that is online.