Africa is already a major sports betting market, but banking networks across the continent remain undeveloped. How will the market evolve over the coming years, and will the retail sector eventually be superseded by mobile and online channels?
These questions were raised by Lanre Gbajabiamila, general manager and CEO of the Lagos State Lottery, at this year’s Payment Solutions Summit, which ran in conjunction with the iGaming Super Show in Amsterdam last month. Yet while panel members agreed that betting in Africa has huge potential, little consensus was made on the future shape of the industry.
“Africa is a big continent with more than one billion people, but at the moment the banking network is not highly developed,” said Sergey Harutyunyan, chief operating officer for BetConstruct, a B2B betting and casino software supplier. “Only 26 per cent of the population is using the internet, but 70-80 per cent are using mobile phones, so this is a good opportunity for operators to take into consideration. However, in order to convert players from land-based to online, you need a good banking system and good payment solutions.”
..in order to convert players from land-based to online, you need a good banking system and good payment solutions.
Harutyunyan added: “As a provider of sportsbooks and casinos, we realise that the future of betting in Africa is mostly online. At some point it must transform from retail to online, but players need flexibility and convenience.”
Simon Burrell, head of business development for Editec, a land-based betting operator with nearly 50,000 points of sale across Africa, said smartphone penetration – which currently stands at just 0.02 per cent – is set to “grow very, very quickly” across the continent. However, he maintained that retail will remain the dominant form of betting across the continent for many years to come.
“In the UK, I remember six years ago everybody lauding the birth of mobile betting, and actually it took three years for this to happen,” Burrell said. “Prior to this, people said it was going to be the death of the 9,000 betting shops in the UK, but there’s still 8,172 of them.
“In Africa, the audience isn’t driven by mobile technology,” he added. “Many of the countries that have strong betting industries don’t have a strong technological infrastructure. The retail element will still be there for two, maybe three generations.”
Regardless of the future shape of Africa’s betting industry, Burrell said trust and integrity was critical. “One of the potential issues you encounter with a purely online operation is that there’s no bricks and mortar element,” he stated. “If somebody wants to make a complaint, it’s a struggle for them. A lot of people on the ground, when they are using an online service, want to know that it’s associated with something they can physically see or touch.”