Online Casino Gaming: How Popular Is It in South Africa?

South Africans are known to be keen gamblers. The country has 45 land-based casinos, a record for the African continent. The industry represents a sizable 1% of GDP, just under half of the agricultural sector. And it is thought that over 90% of South Africans have engaged in gambling at some point in their lives.

The casino industry even bucked economic trends by thriving through the recent recession. It’s safe to say that gambling is very popular amongst South Africans. But what about online casinos? Do they match up to their brick and mortar counterparts?

South Africans Gambling More

According to the NGB’s (National Gambling Board) annual report, GGR (gross gambling revenue) has increased for several years running. Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, GGR had an uptick of 7%. The trend is clear: South Africans are gambling more every year.

While this figure only pertains to land-based South African casinos, we can use these statistics to extrapolate overall gambling trends in the country. If South Africans are spending more in land-based casinos, it is reasonable to assume that spending overall is also increasing. Bingo and the national lottery, for example, have also reported a growth in revenue.

In fact, while land-based casino revenue has been growing in absolute terms, it has also been losing market share to online alternatives. According to a survey, gamblers are increasingly preferring online gambling due to its convenience, greater number of betting options and bonus offers, as well as the lower secondary costs (petrol, drinks, food).

Users are also increasingly citing the fun of the social features of online casinos, such as instant messaging, forums, and live casinos, giving users the ability to chat to dealers. The improved technology available, the prevalence of smartphones amongst the population, and access to 4G and 5G networks will also push the popularity of online casinos in the coming years.

South Africa Looking to Legalize Gambling

Perhaps the greatest hint of the strength of the online casino industry is the growing debate that South Africa should legalize online gambling. At present, it is illegal for operators to offer online gambling from within the country.

South Africans who currently gamble online must turn to licenced casinos operating from abroad. Europa casino, for example, is tailored specifically for South African users, even offering deposits in SA Rand, but is actually based in the Dutch Antilles.

And this is just one example, with South Africans having a selection of other options available to them. This clearly represents a significant loss of potential tax revenue for the country’s coffers. Considering the pressure for change by legislators, it is clear that this is becoming increasingly obvious to those within the government.

Covid-19 Has Pushed Gamblers Online

Covid-19 pushed South Africa’s land-based casinos to closure. It was only in late June that they once again opened their doors to consumers. Nevertheless, the gaming experience has changed markedly, with casinos only operating at 50% capacity.

The long closures pushed South Africa’s keen gamblers online, with virtual casinos seeing record numbers of new users. The re-opening of land-based casinos hasn’t dampened their popularity, with South Africans realizing the high level of gameplay experience offered by online casinos.

According to an article published by Time Live, the number of new gamblers (i.e. those who had never gambled previously) has also increased, with bored South Africans looking for entertainment options during lockdown. While the overall bet sizes have been relatively small, the number of individuals partaking in an occasional bet has increased.

Experienced gamblers, on the other hand, have increased the amount of money spent in online casinos. This has unsurprisingly coincided with gamblers spending more time on betting, with one-eighth of users spending over an hour per gambling session. Overall, 64% of gamblers had upped the amount of time and money spent at online casinos.

Gambling Addiction

An unfortunate byproduct of the rise in gambling is the accompanying levels of increased addiction. While statistics show that this only affects a minority of players, there is a clear rise in terms of absolute figures, which reflects the growing popularity of online casinos as well as other forms of gambling.

However, it would be unfair to place the fault squarely with legal online operators. For example, a peer-reviewed journal examining the effects of addiction on Sub-Saharan Africa found that South Africans gambling in townships were more commonly involved in dice and cards, rather than buying lottery tickets or placing a bet in an online casino.

The cited reason for this preference is the incorrect idea that casinos are ‘rigged’. The opposite is actually the case, with street-based operators often prying on the urban poor and minors. Online casinos, on the other hand, are regulated by third-parties and therefore transparent and more reliable.

Difficult to Measure, But Popularity Is Clear

Because South Africans can gamble using platforms from all over the world, it is difficult to measure the exact number of users and amounts wagered. However, based on the evidence presented, it is clear that online gambling enjoys high levels of popularity amongst users.

We expect the upward trend to continue, especially considering the worldwide effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. With future lockdowns a real possibility, an increasing number of users will likely make the permanent shift to online casinos.



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