How would you describe the state of play with iGaming in Africa as it stands?
Africa is not for the faint-hearted and can be very challenging, but there is lots of potential there and that will increase even further as the time goes by. The player demographic is definitely a very attractive one for any gaming operator, especially the sports betting companies. But we are seeing interesting developments in other verticals too, like lottery. Infrastructure, such as telecoms, is improving on an almost daily basis and is at the root of the real potential on the continent. Moreover, players are becoming savvier and getting used to better offerings, which is making the environment both interesting and challenging. Of course, regulation for operators will always be one of the main issues. Most countries are doing their best to maintain a stable and fair regulatory framework, but it’s far from perfect at the moment.
What trends are you seeing emerge?
It’s no surprise that football is the most common betting sport and good offering around it always has the potential to work well in all African countries. But there is definitely a hunger for new products, and we are seeing real growth in countries that are trying something different. In particular, anything that is adapted and tailored for local markets is becoming increasingly important.
What’s the potential for lottery in the region and how far has this been realised to date?
The potential is huge. I believe we have only touched the surface of what is yet to come. We have been working with operators in only a couple of sub-Saharan countries, but we have strong interest from many more and are actively pursuing them. Over the past year we have been studying the markets and launched feeler projects to make sure we have the best possible product out there. We are now in a position where we know the market pretty well, know the regulatory frameworks of the most important markets, and have the right product for the region. Operators looking to launch or expand into Africa who are considering lottery will have what I believe is a market-leading product. The great thing about Helio’s product is that is highly customizable, so even if two operators have the same game engine the final result might look totally different and this is most certainly what an operator entering a new market needs.
How is the regulatory picture changing across Africa? Which jurisdictions provide what you believe is a regulatory model to follow for others?
Regulation is always an issue for iGaming in Africa. We have all heard about several issues including things like regulatory stability, corruption, and the like. Having said that, there are certain countries such as Kenya which are taking regulation very seriously and there have been numerous operation closures due to licence and tax irregularities. I strongly believe that good regulation is very important to have a level playing field between operators and to maintain player protection. What one needs to be careful of, however, is to not swing from one extreme to the other. You cannot go from being very loosely regulated to trying to copy regulators such as the UKGC. Change in regulation needs to be done systematically and hand-in-hand with the operators, regulators need to understand that to be efficient they need the support and cooperation with the operators and vice-versa.
How has mobile igaming developed in recent times in Africa?
I think this has been where we’ve seen the biggest improvement in recent history. Mobile phone accessibility has given African communities a freedom they never ever experienced in all imaginable sectors and not just igaming. Of course, igaming benefitted tremendously from this. In Africa you still have various ways of betting over the phone which include SMS, USSD, mobile web and app betting. Data access and data charges are still a challenge for many communities of course and operators need to face this reality on a daily basis. That this is why old ways of communication like SMS and USSD are still very popular. I think this has been the reason why casino is yet to take off as part of iGaming in Africa, but I’m sure with the rollout of smart phones this will keep changing. We are now seeing more complex offerings from operators such as Live betting on sportsbooks and casino being offered from new and established brands, so things are catching up very quickly. We are doing our best to surf this tide by offering very UI attractive lotteries and live lotteries, which are attracting a lot of interest.
Localisation: What is the importance of country-by-country solutions?
Localisation is key. The product will vary in many ways from one end of the continent to another. Of course, the main functionality will always remain the same, but colour schemes, favorite teams, jackpots, language and currencies will all be different – and the operator needs to adopt for it. Lately with AI being introduced by many operators, things will change even more since not only the product offering will vary from one country to another but from one user to another within the same country.
Sports betting: How much potential is there for further growth across the region?
Even though sport betting is the most popular form of iGaming in Africa, generating billions of revenue per year, there is always growth potential, especially around innovation and product offering. I’ve analyzed all the major operators and when I compare their offering to what is offered in Europe, I think the African communities are currently experiencing less than 50% of the product potential. Of course, most of the challenges in the offering are set by the current infrastructure and availability of data, so operators who have a solution for that are experimenting with features such as live betting and live points schemes, but still there a lot that can be done.
How would you characterise the market for in-play sports betting?
This has now been introduced by several operators and is working pretty well. However, until major infrastructure improvements take place it will never have the product complexity offering we are accustomed to in Europe, with several betting markets and never be the main revenue generator it deserves to be.
Payments solutions: How do players fund their accounts?
In eastern countries m-pesa is the main payment method, of course. In the west it’s more of a mix. More and more innovative payment methods are being introduced in Africa and the potential is all there since it is still a very cash-based society. We are also seeing several crypto currencies being tested and used on several operator sites.
What has been the impact of cryptocurrencies on iGaming in the region so far?
So far not much, but a number of operators are experimenting with it and with the influx of Asian communities into the continent this will only increase.
What is stopping casino (currently around 25% of igaming GGR) exploding in popularity?
Tax varies from one country to another. I believe that tax is not the main reason for casino, as it has been elsewhere. The main issue is the availability of phones, which are mostly run on opera mini operating system, and availability of data. When you have a phone that is not the best with graphics and low bandwidth data casino will not reach its potential. But as the infrastructure improves, we will start seeing the success stories we are used to in Europe, with the casino vertical. Operators probably need to hold tight until that happens.
What are your future plans within the continent?
The plan is to have constant sustained growth in every area. We will keep improving our product to better suit the market and we will keep venturing into other countries. We are speaking to several operators and we should be announcing further launches in the coming months.
Published at: iNTERGAMINGi issue 4