INTERGAMINGi talks to Spyros Stavropoulos, our Commercial Director along with other industry’s in-the-know suppliers about the particular challenges they face in realising the great potential across the continent.
The penetration of mobile phones in Africa has increased hugely in recent years.
One report from the Global System for Mobile Communications in 2019 stated that sub-Saharan Africa hosted close to 750 million SIM connections – representing three-quarters of its entire population.
In tandem with the onward march of handheld, technology goes the opportunity for gaming on the move – albeit, for those targeting the nascent market, once that contains significant challenges, with the aforementioned region having the least affordable data globally.
Still, with a young, savvy and sports-mad population across a hugely varied continent, there is a common thirst for engaging offerings even given the understandable restrictions compared to markets where data is far more affordable.
Spyros Stavropoulos, our commercial director said that while there is a discrepancy between the varying sub-regions in Africa, it is worth acknowledging that the market across sub-Saharan Africa is making up ground at breakneck speed.
“The opportunities are vast, but its challenges are persistent,” he said. “We aim to provide operators in the region with access to the best in terms of both content and technology, offering them tailored solutions to ensure what they offer meets the betting needs of their local market.
“We are already live with our Ultimate Live Greyhound Channel in Nigeria, a country that can already be considered as a developed market. We’re broadcasting our bespoke greyhound channel with more than 40,000 races annually from the UK and Australia across several operators.
“Alongside that, we built the industry’s first African satellite TV channel dedicated to virtual games that can really take off in the region. The scalable, localised and cost-effective solution enables operators to share a daily schedule of virtual games. Having been launched for betting shops in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, a second bespoke channel dedicated to virtual races has followed.”
Stavropoulos stressed that when discussing a vast region of great potential, it’s vital to take into consideration significant different challenges ranging from region to region.
“Low internet connectivity and a lack of data buying power for players are two of the main difficulties in the market,” he said. “These, coupled with multiple domestic challenges such as the high distribution costs and the lack of technological infrastructure are keeping the region’s growth rate below its potential.
“However, betting operations are increasingly adopting top gaming content and require the technological solutions to bring that content to market and players. The use of tech can be a great enabler when customised to local market conditions and our expertise – due to our long and successful partnerships in the region – allows us to design solutions tailored to each local operator requirements and demands, enhancing the user experience in a retail betting environment.
Fast-paced content, Stavropoulos added, plays a vital role, as does an offering that appeals to local operators.
“The right technology can provide the support to enable the delivery of the most effective betting offerings to players. But the most important factor is the whole proposal to be tailored to both players and operators alike. It’s a balancing act.
“At Vermantia, we do exactly that to ensure increased operational efficiency as well as profitability for our African partners. virtual games, live greyhounds racing and sports can go a long way towards enhancing the retail betting experience as long as the right delivery solutions are in place.
“Satellite broadcasting is the key, especially in areas where internet connection is unavailable or poor. Utilising the latest in technology, we offer high-efficiency coding that delivers top-quality picture at minimum bandwidth. The solution enables new locations to be served instantly, with minimum intervention at the retail network, cost-effectively and flexibly.
“Despite the African betting market being principally land-based, the growth of mobile use and the evolution of mobile devices are also main drivers as mobile betting is growing in leaps and bounds in certain parts of Africa.”
Vermantia, Stavropoulos has observed improvement in connectivity in recent years, particularly in the sub-Saharan region.
“Significant developments have taken place in infrastructure and the affordability of data and those are core drivers of the betting landscape regeneration, be it retail or online/mobile.
“According to studies, with mobile penetration rate reaching 44 per cent, the online gaming sector is experiencing and will continue to experience a boost. While the cost and difficulty of delivering mobile broadband will keep decreasing as a result of developments in network infrastructure, more and more opportunities will appear for the industry.”
Regulatory requirements across the continent are infamously varied. Stavropoulos states that the legal landscape in Africa is, in reality, more stable than might be expected, albeit with regulatory models differing from country to country.
“South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania are the key countries with gaming laws, maintaining a more flexible approach,” he said. “The African market offers a massive opportunity but is risky due to the changing political landscape as well as the grey regulatory framework in many countries.
“The incidents in Kenya, including the revoking of licences of many betting firms and the deferring of renewals from several casinos and lotteries the previous year, as well as the recent increase in taxes imposed by the government, trigger nightmare scenarios for bookmakers and probably diminish the interest from international operators and suppliers.”
As for the impact of the pandemic on the African market, it is too early to see the full picture.
Stavropoulos is optimistic that swift action taken by governments in Africa appears to have contained the virus.
“Besides the challenges the health care sector is facing, the continent has extensive experience in dealing with similar outbreaks and infectious diseases while others attribute low infection rates to the tropical climate,” he said.
“Of course, live sports were suspended, putting a break on players’ ability to place their bets on their favourite form of betting. But behind every crisis lies an opportunity and this is what the authorities need to focus on right now. By leveraging the latest technology advancements, the continent will be able to strengthen its various strategic sectors, get back on track and eventually weather the storm.”
He also believes that a vital learning for the post-pandemic era for all operators across the globe – not only in Africa – is the necessity for an expansion and diversification of content offered by the gaming industry.
“With the suspension of live sporting events, players found themselves seeking alternatives to place their bets. Of course, virtual sports took the centre stage here, showcasing the great potential to grow even further. Whatever operators’ needs are, we can respond with a diversified portfolio to help them grow their business rapidly by always having a consumer-focused mentality.
“Last but not least, self-service betting terminals, which offer cashless payment options to players, will become increasingly popular if we consider the social distancing practices that will be in place for a long time. To work, terminals need to be integrated with regional payment preferences.”
Stavropoulos also emphasised the point that a one-size-fits-all approach is simply inadequate across such a diverse continent.
“One of our core values is the bespoke approach that we have, both creating an enhanced betting experience and generating incremental revenues for the operators,” he said. “Africa is dynamic but also vast. Understanding the need for diverse markets within Africa is vital. We always have in mind local particularities and the fragmented infrastructure, adapting technology to fit not only the continent’s restrictions but also each market’s difficulties with a fully localised approach.
“When it comes to content, a bespoke approach as part of a full turnkey solution, customised to meet each local market’s needs, should be also applied to meet the African operators’ and players’ demand for an exciting, fast-paced and revenue-generating offering.
“The demand from African operators and players for diversified content, especially for fast-paced virtual content is clear, as well as the need for a reliable gaming platform that will power this diversified content through an end-to-end solution. We are ready to meet that demand, offering a standalone solution for virtual games which comes with all the popular game titles, addressing the needs of the African market and enabling our African partners to capitalise on the constantly evolving marketplace. Our all-in-one platform comes with a back-office management tool, featuring all the functions required to serve the needs of all the stakeholders, including the operator, the owner of the retail shop and the cashier agents.”
With rapidly growing internet connectivity and the enthusiasm of Africans for gaming, Stavropoulos sees the future of both online and retail betting as being bright.
“The retail betting market will continue to flourish but the same also applies to the igaming sector, due to the constant technological advancements and innovations taking place in the continent’s infrastructure. Currently, we are aiming at placing our products in front of a larger number of new players and our diversified portfolio will pave the way to that.”