As a continent, nowhere has more potential in the betting and gaming industry as Africa. Currently home to more than 1.25 billion people, it is set to enjoy rapid population growth bucking the demographic trend in much of the developed world.
Such a vast and diverse continent presents both opportunities and challenges for the industry, such as access to the internet, relative cost of data and the lack of familiarity with complex betting products but juxtaposed with huge young sports mad populations being exposed to betting. Africa has grown out of a pure retail model, and we are still seeing the early stages of the pivot to mobile. This offers great potential for operators and suppliers alike. SiGMA spoke to a number of suppliers with an eye on the continent.
David Kicks, CEO and co-founder of e-Technologies (DK)
James Bustin, Commercial Director at Light & Wonder (JB)
Thomas Smallwood, Head of Marketing at ESA Gaming (TS)
Mark Schmidt, Director Africa Sales at Sportingtech (MS)
African markets differ in many ways to more established European regions, what specific challenges do you see for suppliers looking to enter regulated countries in the continent?
TS: All market entries have hurdles to overcome, but one obvious mistake suppliers and operators make is treating all players the same. Demographics will demand different content in say, Tanzania, than in the Nordics. As online casino products become more and more familiar with players, education will play a role, but so will having content that is easy to understand. If you’re new to the online gaming sphere, the last thing you want is players to be exposed to complex games that are difficult to understand, and therefore not as immediately engaging. In addition, internet penetration varies from region to region. How people access the internet is also a factor as well as speeds, so having lightweight, mobile-first content that is quick to load, in terms of data usage, can be an immediate differentiator for operators. If suppliers can produce that, then it can be a key leg up as they look to gain a foothold in the continent.
DK: For suppliers specifically, it’s important that products are more simplistic than the product offering we see in Europe and Asia today. The mobile phone is the primary tool for betting and gaming, so building simple interfaces is key to success. One big challenge has been regulation, which coupled with some of the complex local requirements for opening in these countries has made it quite daunting to enter as an online player. Regulation is evolving and regulatory authorities are becoming more confident and educated about behaviours and the challenges that .com and crypto only operators present, and the conditions needed to attract further brand participation. This includes a better understanding of what a suitable tax level looks like, moving away from self-reporting of numbers, and introducing better monitoring of the sector. As a result, it is inevitable that we will see more global brands make headway in more orderly African markets and sustainable tax revenues being derived for important welfare and infrastructure spending.
JB: It would be fair to suggest that most African markets are still evolving. Regulators across the continent are working on bringing new measures into play, however these often come into effect with very little notice, which makes it more difficult for industry stakeholders to react.
Although many countries are yet to introduce specific iGaming requirements, both providers and operators should be doing the upmost to keep up to date with market changes in Africa, especially considering how things can move very quickly. This was recently the case in South Africa where regulators had to move swiftly to find a way to allow online casino games in the region.
MS: The two greatest challenges in rolling out effectively in this continent are having the correct technology for the job and establishing trust with end users. The idea that a customer can deposit and withdraw their money without being swindled is a far more effective selling point than the kinds of bonuses and free bet promotions that we see working so well in other parts of the world. Part of that journey to building trust comes from the simplicity of the onboarding journey, so a slick, easy-to-use front end becomes vital to success. At the same time, operators need to be aware that data comes at a premium in many parts of Africa, so lite offerings are often the way forward. Sportingtech has developed several such solutions to great effect in a number of African markets. This will become less of an issue as the region’s technological infrastructure becomes more robust but, for the time being, a thoroughly localised approach is necessary.
In order to be successful, what are the main things to be considered in terms of compliance and other local market conditions, including player preferences?
TS: Accessibility and usability are key. Obviously being adherent to local regulations goes without saying, and that should be an expectation by all suppliers, but equally, there’s no point bringing content to market that nobody can use or understand. Heavy, graphic dense content that uses up large amounts of mobile data or takes a while to load will struggle to succeed. Equally, bringing games to players that they want to play is important. Will themes such as Irish games, or Buffalo games, resonate as much in Africa as they do in Europe and North America? Ensuring market research is undertaken and making sure that any portfolio contains titles that resonate with local players is absolutely integral when entering new markets, and Africa is no different.
DK: You have to put boots on the ground in one way or another to understand what is going on, even if that is just from the marketing and customer acquisition teams. A lot of customer acquisition is driven by ‘influencers’ such as local sports or media personalities and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Retail remains key in feeding the growth of online and a lot of operators still see this as a critical component to success. All countries offer slightly different challenges when it comes to online with Telcos’ mobile money being key to growth (M-PESA, Africa’s leading mobile money service, launched in Kenya 2007, and Nigeria only issued banking licences to Telcos in 2021/22), but things are evolving rapidly which is the most exciting thing about Africa as a whole.
JB: Anyone looking to break into these emerging African markets must be smart in the way they approach practically every aspect of market entry. My advice would be to utilise tools that make each individual process smoother. Light & Wonder’s OPENGAMING™ System (OGS) has proven invaluable for operators as it offers a single point of integration, providing online casinos with access to thousands of games that are all supported by a comprehensive range of responsible gambling tools. Personally, I think making use of global ecosystems such as ours makes the process so much more efficient from start to finish.
MS: The main thing to be considered is how nuanced and different all regulatory landscapes across the continent are, each one requiring a specific approach in order to ensure success. Legislation is moving in the right direction in a number of jurisdictions with some pre-regulated markets’ taking a tolerant view towards the sector owing to its highly lucrative nature. However, even though many countries in the region are becoming steadily more hospitable to the sector, each of their regulatory statuses are constantly shifting and have their own native regulatory peculiarities with regard to compliance. To take advantage of the region’s significant potential, operators need to be on the lookout for a partner that understands the processes in each market and can help them navigate these choppy waters.
Sports betting is still the main vertical in the continent. Is there an appetite for casino or non-traditional content?
TS: Absolutely. Content that can add value to sports bettors will also be in demand, regardless of the market. However, being able to create games that work in synergy with a sports betting experience will be highly valued. Our EasySwipe™ product portfolio is designed to sit within sportsbooks, and offer a lightweight, swipe-in casino experience without distracting players from their wagering experience, while also ensuring cross-sell, rather than cannibalisation. Our sports-themed games are already demonstrating themselves to be good performers within African markets and crash style games such as Aviator or our own Rocket Racers, are also popular in markets where casino gaming is still in its infancy. The popularity of online casino will only grow over time and exposing players to innovative RNG mechanics will set the groundwork for more and more immersive gaming opportunities as the infrastructure improves.
DK: The current migration from the well-established retail sector to online will see the introduction of a greater offering, including more innovative verticals. Sports betting, as well as lottery, remain the two big products in African countries, but casino content is on the rise and a number of operators are enjoying success with virtuals on terminals. As the market matures further, I believe there is plenty of opportunity for suppliers and operators to elevate the player experience and also to start to think about building new content and engagement mechanics that resonate with this dynamic population.
JB: In South Africa, casino has always been the largest gambling vertical, so I suspect that many of those land-based casino players will start wagering online in the coming months. I also firmly believe sports betting customers will try online casino games now that they are legalised. The fact of the matter is that customers want as much entertainment as possible. Rather than wait for the weekend’s sporting fixtures, bettors can now engage with online casino games on their phones whenever they want.
MS: Sports betting is still the most popular product in Africa, however we have seen casino gain a significant degree of new ground. There are a lot more engagement features available to entertain users, such as jackpots and leader boards. South Africa, in particular, has seen incredible growth in terms of online casino, while the rest of the continent is still largely catching up. That being said, we have seen low data consumption and crash games become very popular outside of South Africa, which will lay the groundwork nicely for further offerings as the online infrastructure across various countries grows stronger. Effective cross-sell strategies during the World Cup clearly illustrated that the synergy between sportsbook and casino is not to be taken lightly and this is a dynamic we expect to see grow throughout African markets.
How do you expect the African markets will evolve and how big can the region become?
TS: How big it can become is the question we all want to know the answer too! Recent studies have shown it is expected to hit almost $7bn in size by 2030, across all verticals, and with the population set to increase markedly over next few years. The potential, especially for lightweight, mobile-first content, is enormous – and there’s no two ways about it. More and more members of the population will join the pool of users, and betting habits already exist in numerous regulated markets. It is an incredibly exciting time in Africa, and if products can resonate with the local public, then suppliers can quickly establish themselves as huge players in the region as more countries regulate.
DK: As more African countries look to regulate online betting and gaming and the supervisory authorities become more sophisticated, the region will offer great potential for the industry. It is a young, dynamic marketplace and it has huge growth ahead of it. From more established gambling markets we know that an important next step will be to introduce some safeguarding measures. The sooner that governments can collectively look at some responsible gambling policies and pin operators and suppliers to that, the better for all as it will help create a healthy and booming online gaming market and minimise social harm.
JB: I expect that growth in South Africa’s iGaming market will continue to increase at a rapid rate now that online casino games have been approved by the Western Cape regulator, meaning iGaming is effectively open to all operators which want to establish a presence in the region.
We have already seen that GGR for bookmakers has more than doubled in the two years from 2020 to 2022, largely due to the introduction of iGaming. Now that more contingencies have been approved by more regulators this growth should continue. I think regulatory bodies elsewhere will see the success in South Africa and follow suit, especially as smartphone penetration and internet access continues to become more accessible for its citizens.
MS: The industry has been cultivating offerings in the African market for some time, and it seems it is finally ready to bear fruit in a meaningful way. To be able to capitalise, however, prospective operators need to be able to wield the effective trio of trust, technological competence and regulatory compliance. To help operators navigate these elements and avail of the resulting opportunities, Sportingtech takes a consultative approach to any new client, in any new country. Clients play an active role in designing their tailored solution and, and their needs are adapted to. With a strong executive and product team at the helm, Sportingtech has achieved an edge of competitors in the region in terms of knowledge. With this region promising exponential growth, operators would do well to invest in such a partner.