Africa and the French-Speaking Market Opportunity

Christophe Casanova, Chief Operating Officer at Honore Gaming, says that French-speaking African markets have their challenges but offer tremendous potential for operators that can deliver a properly localised player experience.

Online gambling operators are always looking to new markets to drive growth and right now the US is a key focus for many. But there are plenty of opportunities on the table in other markets around the world, and in particular in Africa where gambling is a part of the culture.

Just like the US, the African market is made up of lots of individual “states” each with its own regulatory landscape, technical infrastructure and cultural expectations. But Africa is even more diverse, with a wide range of languages and dialects spoken.

While this can provide challenges for operators, we believe it actually presents an opportunity to identify niche markets based on language and serve them with a fully localised sports betting/casino product and experience.

This is certainly the case for French-speaking African countries such as Senegal where there is a huge interest in sports such as horse racing and football, as well as an appetite for betting.

These are fast-moving markets. As recently as 2013 there were very few betting brands serving French-speaking African countries and even fewer that were offering a properly localised product. We saw this as a missed opportunity.

Fast forward to today and the landscape has changed somewhat with a growing number of operators serving French-speaking African countries. But regulations are still chaotic with additional challenges around payments and data.

But where there are challenges there are opportunities, and for those that can clear these hurdles significant rewards await.

French-speaking African markets – the challenges

Regulation is a cause for concern across African markets in general, but especially in French-speaking countries. While progress has been made over the past ten years, we are still a long way from a cohesive regulatory environment where operators fully understand what is expected of them.

Senegal is the most advanced in this regard. There are around ten licensed betting operators in the market and all deposits and withdrawals must pass through a regulatory platform that monitors all of the funds going into and out of the betting platforms.

The wider lack of defined regulations means that operators have to foster strong local partnerships in order to secure the licences they need to target players in each country.

Another concern is payments. The banking infrastructure in some French-speaking African countries is simply not as advanced as it is in other markets such as Europe and North America. Operators also need to consider the prevalence of mobile banking.

Data is another challenge. Due to the high cost of mobile data across Africa, online/mobile casinos and sportsbooks must be super light and stripped back. This is equally important for the UX as the majority of players in French-speaking African countries are new to mobile betting.

This ultimately means that European operators looking to target the region can’t use their usual front ends. This is because they are too feature-rich for the mobile data available to African bettors as well as being too complex for new players to understand and use.

The good news – there are plenty of similarities

Operators that are able to launch lite versions of their sportsbooks and casinos that have also been fully localised – language, currency, etc – for French-speaking African markets will be in a position to gain traction among bettors.

The good news is that betting behaviours in French-speaking countries are pretty much the same as in other African markets. Football is big (it accounts for around 95% of the market), with punters wanting to bet on the top European leagues and especially the English Premier League.

But this should not detract from the fact that operators must see each African market as being unique with its own regulatory requirements, data availability and player preferences. There is no magic formula for country-wide success.

Ultimately, Africa is made up of 54 different and distinct countries and operators must fully understand these cultural quirks if they are to provide bettors with an experience that will not only meet but exceed their expectations.