Africa Spotlight Part 1: Markets, Tech and Risks, with Keith Hathaway, CEO, Af Gam Elite


Keith Hathaway, CEO of Af Gam Elite gives his assessment on which markets are most popular, some of the core risks of operating in Africa, and the tech and payments landscape. 

How attractive is Africa?

I’m not talking about the Pearl of Africa (Uganda), Lake Victoria, the Maasai Mara, a trip along Ghana’s Cape Coast, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or even a few days of heaven in Zanzibar.

All the aforementioned are as attractive as anything you would find anywhere on the planet; Africa has undoubted charm and beauty. But the question I ask today is: Just how attractive is Africa to invest in an Online Gambling Business?

Let’s take a look at the positives, negatives and some bumps you will have along the way and decide if the pain you will go through is really worth it. Without a doubt, there are some big obstacles and major differences. Both product, tech and business practices than almost any overseas investor will be used too.

Potential:

In a word, massive! The potential for business in Africa cannot be overstated.

Africa is a continent made up of 54 countries with an estimated population of 1.35 billion people. So, this alone makes potential huge, add to the mix some of its major countries have a true gambling culture. In Nigeria and Kenya to use as examples, it is an absolute way of life.

Markets:

Sports betting is almost exclusively Football across Africa with the exception of South Africa who has betting habits very similar to most European countries. Then you have to very quickly realise that the African market is in love with Jackpots and Lotteries!

Long may this continue, as anyone who runs a Jackpot or has Lotto on their site right now will know just how great the margins are on these products.

You can forget Online Casino, well not forget per se, but it is last product on your list. One product you cannot forget is virtuals.

A leading virtual supplier was quoted recently saying that 65% of their retail sports revenue in Nigeria comes from virtuals. For any non-African operator that is an insane number.

Well, you better believe it, as Africa is a continent like no other.

But at the end of the day, you have a continent that has almost one and a half billion people and growing, and the youthful population has a passion for gambling.

Risks:

Licensing is up with the top risks if not the biggest risk you will encounter, to put bluntly, they can be expensive and time consuming to acquire, yet this license can be taken away in an instant, without any warning or even reason at all!

A great example of this was in 2019, the BCLB (Betting Control and Licensing Board of Kenya), simply cancelled all licenses with immediate effect. Boom, gone.

Very shortly after, there was a process whereby licenses would be reissued, and the online gaming market in Kenya is as vibrant as ever. This shows the risks involved, and without doubt, nobody got their license back for free, regardless if they had lost huge revenue.

Corruption is also a risk, but not as big a risk as you would imagine as some say its culturally engrained in Africa. This is a risk that is heightened when you are an overseas investor as well.

You will hear the word facilitation daily, in pretty much all African countries and you just have to get used to it. It is not going anywhere, in some ways it is more “honest”, as at least you know what you have to go to get x license or avoid x frivolous audit.

Next on the list of risks is retail. (Assuming most overseas investors are looking at opening an Online Gaming Operation).

Retail is huge, that huge betting culture in Nigeria and Kenya is almost entirely driven by retail. Online is growing and growing fast, but at least 80% of gaming revenue in these countries currently stems from retail.

Getting people out of that culture is hard as it’s a way of life, especially in a continent where a very low percentage of people have even a smartphone, much less a laptop or home Wifi.

In Africa, at times it’s like going back to the year 2000. Old Nokia GSM handsets at the ready (they really do still use and even sell these new in Africa)!

Last on the list of standout risks would be your own staff. What? Sadly this is the case and it’s not a risk you cannot mitigate and workaround, but it is a risk that you have to consider as an overseas investor.

You will pay your staff at entry level between $150-$500 USD monthly (dependent on location and position). These staff then see (hopefully) tens of thousands of USD daily turnover or even more, there are obvious risks here. But with strong local partners, good local senior staff and this issue can be taken away but cannot be ignored.

Tech and Payments:

The hardest thing for a non-African to get their head around when entering the African market is that design isn’t really on the first page of priorities. In Europe or USA, you would have name, brand and design as top priorities. These do have to be considered and they are important, but there are a few things that have to be considered a higher priority in Africa.

Ever heard of the browser Opera or Opera Mini? Well, read up on it and fast if you want to succeed in Africa. Using as little data as possible is key and Opera as a browser really does the business here. Check it out and look at the data that Opera uses versus Chrome.

Operators are now finally starting to work with Telco’s to zero rate their sites. Basically make viewing their sites data free to the player, with the operator buying data bundles and taking the browsing costs.

But whoever pays, speed still counts, and Africa has such poor devices and connectivity that the only sites that succeed in Africa are ones that are data light, simple and functional.

As for payments, you need to learn all about mobile money.

Luckily, most Africans have access to mobile money account, excluding Nigeria and South Africa.  So you will need solid local payments lead by mobile money, there are many African specialists in the world of mobile money. Tola Mobile for example are one that I have worked with a few times, but there are options via companies like Tola, or to run direct integrations with Telcos if you have the time and resources.

How many people reading this know what USSD is? The long answer is Unstructured Supplementary Service Data. But what the hell is it? Anyone that joined the industry after 2005 and has worked in Europe, will have no clue!

Basically, it is how you take bets from players who do not have a smartphone.

Those old Nokia’s and the like, no smartphone technology but they will enter a command such as #555, they will then get a screen saying: 1. Lottery 2. Sports Betting. Then when you press 2, you will get 1. Football 2. Jackpot 3. Rugby etc. You get the gist, till you get to the exact market you want, and then enter the number as a stake. From here you are prompted to enter your Mobile Money PIN, and your bet is made. Good luck you!

Part two of Keith’s article will see him cover KYC and CRM, localisation and languages, and what you can expect from African players — coming soon!

Keith founded and runs AfGamElite, a specialist consultancy focusing on all areas of gambling in the African continent. To get in touch please email keith@afgamelite.com or contact on LinkedIn