Africa: Uneasy relationship between online betting and mobile money transactions

The growth in mobile money services has created new opportunities for merchants to sell their products and services. One of these is the fast-growing sports betting sector which has taken a number of African countries by storm.

What’s further spurred the growth is rapid internet penetration. Consumers now have easy access to online sports betting services even in remote areas. Countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania are seeing a huge expansion in sports betting and other forms of gambling.

Betting on major European soccer leagues, as well as local and national teams, has become a multimillion-dollar industry . Much of this betting is done on mobile phones with studies showing that mobile platforms are quickly becoming the preferred means of gambling.

The combined size of the gambling industry in Kenya, Nigeria, and South African is projected to be worth USD$37 billion in 2018. In Kenya alone, a 2017 study found that an estimated 2 million individuals engage in mobile-based sports betting.

The proliferation of betting is one of the unintended consequences of the growth in mobile money services which have taken off on the back of a drive for financial inclusion. Since 2014 mobile phone platforms have been fronted as the key to improving financial inclusion on the continent. But these eventualities were never what were envisaged. Yet financial inclusion remains an action point because the majority of adult Africans are unbanked .

But it’s time that government’s recognise the scale of the problem that’s been created.

Young gamblers

Supporters of mobile-based sports betting in Africa will tell you how good it’s been for the continent. They list off a number of gambling benefits including increased employment opportunities, easy money for low-income earners, tax revenue for government, and general economic growth.

What they don’t talk about is the devastating effect betting has on many of those who participate in it, more than half of whom are below the age of 35 .This is particularly problematic in Africa because the continent has the youngest population in the world .

Over 420 million Africans are aged between 15 and 35. On top of this unemployment is extremely high. About 35% of Africa’s young people are unemployed. Only one out of six African youths are in gainful wage employment.

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