Post Covid-19 Pandemic, Is Rwanda Africa’s Newest iGaming Hotspot?
When considering key iGaming growth areas in Africa, the nations most likely to spring to mind are South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya – or perhaps even Tanzania.
But since the abatement of the Covid-19 pandemic across the Mother Continent a number of new and exciting online players–most notably Rwanda in the Great Lakes region–have emerged as potential iGaming hotspots.
Bringing you the latest breaking gaming news, we’ve surfed the buzz and caught up with Jean-Claude Mushimire, Executive Director of the Rwanda Gaming Association, to get rare insight into the Rwandan betting sector and explore the exciting opportunities for growth in this blossoming iGaming market.
How did Covid-19 impact the Rwandan gaming industry?
“As elsewhere, the pandemic hit our industry very hard. Before the official lockdown, we had eight licensed sportsbetting operators servicing over 400 retail outlets, but only one out of the eight had an online presence. The sector’s annual turnover was approximately 38 billion Rwandan Francs (US$3.8 million).
“When our government enforced the national lockdown [on March 15, 2020] almost immediately over 5,000 people [in the gaming industry] were out of a job, which was an absolute tragedy for them and the wider economy.
“The betting industry still hasn’t fully recovered from this massive impact. Only five of the eight original sportsbetting licensees managed to survive the down period, and even the operators who survived are still only operating at 10 to 20 per cent of their original capacity, especially the land-based operators who had to shut down many of their shops.”
How have you recovered? What role will international investment play in the future growth of the Rwandan gaming industry and wider economy? And how do you plan to attract more investment?
“International investment will play a pivotal role in our sector’s future. It’s been proven all over the world that gaming can be a massive contributor to the economy, so it’s vital that we focus on this market as a means to boost growth on a national level.
“Being able to attract investment into the gaming sector will have a knock-on effect, allowing us to further develop our national sports infrastructure. It will give us greater support for local sports initiatives and the opportunity to nurture grass roots talent. This in-turn helps with CSR and improves the general public’s opinion of the sports betting industry.
“In order to attract more interest from abroad and boost the gaming industry, we have made some changes to the market and national infrastructure.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a monopoly on online gaming, with only one online gaming licence being issued. This has recently been changed and there are now multiple online licences available and to make things even more convenient, these licences can be applied for online. We are also deep in the process of creating a new online gaming policy. These new regulations will enable a robust framework, outlining key requirements for obtaining a licence. This will be especially beneficial for new international operators who will now be able to enter the market with the assurance that their investment will be completely protected by the law.
“From an infrastructure perspective, since Covid-19 the Central Bank has mandated that cashless payments be made available with zero charges on all transfers between bank accounts and mobile wallets, zero charges on all mobile money transfers, zero fees on payments for point-of-sale transactions and an increase in the limit for individual transfers using mobile money wallets. This is great news for the development of online gaming in Rwanda and should hopefully be very encouraging for potential investors.”
What do you see as the key growth drivers for online gaming in Rwanda going forward?
“It’s difficult to say because, in essence, the entire online market is new. Up until now, there has only been one online operator licence servicing an entire country. Now that we’ve opened up the market, we expect to see growth coming from all areas of online gaming.
“Rwanda is almost a completely untapped online market. So whether it’s in-play betting, esports, UFC or even online Casino, the opportunities are endless. We’re excited to see what the future holds.
“Furthermore, the increased penetration of smartphones in Rwandan society will be a big factor in this growth. New initiatives from telco companies mean that more smartphones, and cheaper data packages, than ever before will be available; allowing people, even in remote villages, to have access to the Internet and maximise the opportunity for players to access their favourite betting and gaming brands. This will be the biggest driver of growth for online gaming in Rwanda in the near future.”
What East African countries do you think have set the best example for creating a safe and competitive online gaming market?
“When it comes to online gaming law and regulation, we have taken a lot of inspiration from Tanzania. Although countries like Kenya may be more high profile, Tanzania was actually the first to implement a comprehensive online regulatory framework.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes and updates to regulation in Kenya over recent years. But Tanzania has shown a lot more consistency in regulating a healthy and competitive gaming environment.
“They are also leaders at the GRAF (Gambling Regulators African Forum) annual meeting, spearheading regulation standards – not just for East African gaming but also on a pan-African level.
“Kenya has set the trend for payments. Their development of MPESA has been transformational and a dynamo for the success of their online gaming market. This is a key feature that we also hope to adopt in Rwanda as we continue the drive towards cashless payments.”
It’s really encouraging to hear about the new developments coming out of this emerging East African online gaming hub. Changes to their licensing and regulation policies, plus vital updates to their IT infrastructure, means that there is more opportunity than ever for potential market entrants.
Jean-Claude believes that international investment will be the catalyst for this growth and that it will kick-start the online sector. It will also have a critical knock-on effect on the greater economy, he believes, creating jobs and boosting Rwanda’s national sporting framework – which, in-turn, will help boost the industry’s public reputation. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. And we look forward to seeing the nation grow and achieve its full potential in the iGaming sector.