Sports Gambling Booms in Africa: Mobile Phones are the African Las Vegas


The popularity of gambling in Africa has risen over the past few years with the advent of mobile applications to make betting easier and a proliferation of betting joints.

Ghanaian Efutu Member of Parliament Afenyo Markin is a vehement opponent of gambling centers in Ghana. Earlier this year, he spoke to DW, accusing the Chinese who mainly own and run most of the gambling centers, of taking advantage of young people. He said, “Those Chinese who have come with their raffle joints, I want to tell them we will encourage the police to close these joints down,” before adding, “There are lot of raffle joints in Winneba. Properties are getting stolen because somebody wants money to go raffle.”

The popularity of gambling in Africa has risen over the past few years with the advent of mobile applications to make betting easier and a proliferation of betting joints. In Kenya, SportPesa which was launched in 2013, now has over one million registered.

While it sounds like a “man problem,” reports from South Africa prove women have also been ensnared by the allure of quick money. Heidi Sinclair, treatment and counselling manager at the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation says, “…the reality is that as many as 51 percent of all South African women gamble; what’s more, female problem gamblers are likely to be more severely affected by the condition.” While the practice has its advantages like boosting State revenue, the cost is sometimes too great to ignore.

Africa’s gaming industry is booming, driven by cheap mobile phones, improvement in Internet penetration and increasingly ambitious developers.

Mobile Phones are the African Las Vegas

The 2014-2018 Gambling Outlook by PriceWaterhouseCoopers examined the extent of the gambling industry in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Gambling in these three countries will be an industry worth $37 billion. Geopoll says, “Most youth (54%) in SSA (Sub Saharan Africa) have tried their hand at gambling. Kenya has the highest number of youth who have participated in gambling or betting in the past at 76% followed by Uganda at 57%. Ghana has the least number at 42%.”

It also says most young people are using mobile phones to gamble with 75% of those who bet using their phones. Kenya has the highest usage of mobile phones for gambling at 96% while South Africa has the lowest at 48%. In effect, as Geopoll rightly states, mobile phones have become Africa’s Las Vegas.

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Fictitious gains, Real losses

The Digital Skills Observatory report says, gambling provides participants with a false and risky sense of “better days”. The contention was that people know it is risky but have an impression of winning which is often untrue. A participant in the research, Mark, said he furnished his house through winnings from gambling. However, according to DSO data, “55% of participants believe they win most of the time, but our data shows that more than 50% have spent more on gambling than they have gained.” While gambling has created employment, and taken youths off the streets in some cases, it has also trapped a lot of participants in compulsive “problem gambling”.

A good number of gamblers want to stop but they simply cannot. Families are being affected. Mental health is at risk. The desire to make more has become an adversary. Quartz reports that, “Kampala schools have reported an increase in dropouts with gambling students unable to pay fees, while several communities, including Uganda’s second largest city Gulu in November, have sought to ban betting amid claims of mounting crime and underage involvement.”

Many countries are struggling with regulating gambling in their countries and appealing to the humanity of business people making profits from gambling is foolhardy. They make gains from the losses of the people and they cannot be expected to cut down their source of revenue. They cash in on the chaotic realities of the largely unemployed young people.

It is sad that it has come to this: Youths who should be in full-time jobs and school are now resorting to chance to make a living. Leaders should feel challenged by the festering rot in our midst. Gambling can be tolerated when it is recreational but when whole populations pin their livelihoods on it, there is a fundamental error in the system.



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