Is it crunch time for mobile betting in Africa?
The African region has been high on the agenda for international betting and gaming companies for several years. Some have already taken the plunge and entered markets with full force, while others have kept a watchful eye on developments, biding their time. Either way, the interest is with good reason. With a large, diverse population, maturing economies and a handful of well-established retail sports betting markets, the continent is not short of potential. After the challenges that 2020 has thrown at the sector, however, with land-based operations being shuttered for the best part of the year, it feels like a wind of change is in the air – and it is blowing in the direction of mobile.
Part of the reason for this is that Covid-19 has forced attitudes to shift. Before the pandemic, retail had dominated Africa’s core sports betting markets, and the local land-based heavyweights showed no real signs of loosening their grip. Although moves had been made into mobile, they hadn’t taken off quite as fast as some would have hoped. There’s been a certain distrust of the online offer, both from operators and players, with a lack of enthusiasm when it comes to really taking the leap and investing in development. The high cost of data and unreliable network connections have contributed to the slow uptake, with regulation and tax condition proving equally prohibitive.
Of course, anyone serious about approaching Africa knows that this is a very high-level overview. The picture differs widely from nation to nation. Even the most promising betting and gaming markets of Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa and, increasingly, the Ivory Coast, are at different stages of development and incredibly nuanced for that exact reason. Some of these nuances are more pronounced, such as the payment and mobile infrastructure or the legal frameworks, while others are more subtle, yet affect everything from the business culture to way players bet.
If the pandemic has indeed given the online sector the kick start it needed, then this fragmentation will make it paramount to have boots on the ground. From our experience in African markets, which includes Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, Angola and Zambia, tailoring products and solutions to cater for operators’ unique requirements is the only way to succeed. Each brand has individual challenges wherever they are, which you need to understand for a partnership to work. For this reason, our platform has been built with superior localisation expertise and can be customised by partner to suit the needs of their target markets and the regulatory, technology or infrastructure challenges that come with the territory.
That isn’t to say that having a local presence smooths the ride completely. Electricity can be a major problem in certain markets, with power outages disrupting mobile communication networks along with WiFi. One solution is satellite distribution, but it doesn’t come cheap. And neither does mobile data. To some degree, the high cost of data has amplified difficulties in converting players to mobile, whilst also restricting the type of content available. Products need to be as light weight as possible to make it to market with a limiting effect on the experience. There is a growing trend of mobile network operators partnering with betting firms to offer free browsing to mutual customers on their sportsbook, such as with MTN and Vodacom, but these arrangements only go some way to addressing the problem.
We are seeing greater progress with technological solutions, albeit to varying degrees depending on the market. USSD betting, which facilitates mobile-based wagering on lower grade devices without the need for Wifi, GPRS or 3G, has taken off in Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria – where basic phone usage outstrips smartphones. Opera Mini is another game changer, unlocking access to 120 million users of the mobile browser across the continent. Its dominance continues to grow from East to West, allowing operators to strip back a lot of the data heavy features of a mobile sportsbook, making it cheaper, easier, and quicker for punters to place bets.
Enabling USSD and Opera Mini compatibility has been a core focus of Pronet Gaming and by doing so we have given our partners a competitive edge. We believe that with increased investment into online, combined with technological development and regulatory support, Africa’s mobile betting markets will soon be competing on the global stage. For those that want to be a part of the ride, having a local presence will be critical. It’s a critical time – but an exciting journey to be on.