Africa’s sports betting sector has been booming over the last few years, with countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa leading the way in the region.
While still heavily dependent on an ecosystem of retail shops and agents, online betting and gaming is seeing significant growth in many parts of the continent, driven in large part by improved internet accessibility and an increase in smartphone ownership.
For suppliers, the challenge lies in creating truly localised content that takes into account Africa’s unique network infrastructure. We spoke to Alessandro Sposito (pictured), Head of Business Development at ESA Gaming, about the opportunities on offer and why Covid-19 has boosted the online sector but also created new challenges.
SBC: As a continent, mobile phones are significantly more prevalent in Africa than desktop devices. Do providers have to approach the region differently to make commercial inroads?
AS: It is absolutely crucial for suppliers to understand the market they are targeting and to tailor their product with an appropriate user experience. For Africa, this does not mean graphic-heavy games with all the bells and whistles. It means a user-friendly product that delivers a gaming experience in which winning feels achievable.
Suppliers need to move away from the heavy and over-produced slots that are popular in Europe. Instead, they should concentrate on developing lightweight games that are specifically designed for mobile, rather than adapted from one world to fit another.
SBC: In a region where limited internet access or slow download speeds can hinder elements of online gaming, how vital is creating lightweight products with easy access?
AS: Africa is a unique region. The majority of its internet traffic is generated by mobile devices, with everyday access to desktop devices still relatively rare. Betting and gaming suppliers need to approach the market with a mobile-first thought process as a result. Many incumbent operators have already successfully adopted this approach with mobile gaming showing steady growth in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya.
However, we should not forget that internet penetration, even on mobile devices, is still relatively low compared with other regulated nations. We are seeing a steady decline in the cost of data while devices are becoming more affordable. This positive trend will propel the future growth of online gaming.
For new suppliers thinking of entering the market, now is therefore the perfect time to ensure that your offering is truly localised, beyond language and sports events, to fully appeal to local players. Lightweight games, designed to aid cross-sell from a largely sports driven player base can be at the forefront of this. It is also worth looking at the simplicity of games to avoid more complex casino games and focus on tried, trusted and, most importantly, recognised games from the land-based sector.
Our EasySwipe™ HTML5 mobile games are data light, easy to understand and integrate seamlessly into sportsbooks or gaming sites. Super-fast performance and open sessions allow players to swipe in and out, enjoying the best quality casino games without disrupting the sports betting experience.
SBC: With the Covid pandemic closing down a plethora of land-based venues, is now the time to see a shift to online-first betting and gaming?
AS: The shift towards online gaming was already taking place but the pandemic did speed this development up. As Africa further develops its network infrastructure, we will see a boom in online play, but with it comes a multitude of challenges. In markets where PC ownership is not as high and internet cafes are a key venue for accessing the web, the closure of retail points means a good mobile experience is paramount to creating this online-first product.
Equally important, however, is ensuring that players can deposit money into their accounts and payment through mobile becomes a hugely important enabler in this sense. The companies that tackle the user experience as a priority will win the battle of customers in Africa.
SBC: As a largely sports-first territory, what appetite is there with both players and operators for games outside their comfort zone?
AS: The Covid-19 outbreak and the lull in available sports events to bet on did force operators and suppliers around the globe to act quickly to innovate and explore new opportunities. This included enhancing the traditional casino experience, as well as introducing new verticals such as esports and virtuals. In Africa, this introduced many bettors to new forms of entertainment for the first time.
While many will stay loyal to sports betting, some have been converted to these new products and will continue to play them. The pandemic shone a particular light on the importance of operators not being too dependent on just one vertical but to have a varied product offering. Naturally, there is an appetite for operators to cross-sell to keep their customers satisfied and to not lose out to rivals.
SBC: With a lack of live sport over the last few months, have cross-sell tools and products become an even more important part of an operator’s arsenal?
AS: Absolutely. But rather than taking customers away from sportsbook they should be offered alternatives within it. Why offer myriad slot games with difficult to understand features and complicated paytables if sports betting is why they came to your site in the first place? Simple quick win and table games are far more approachable and immersive and will offer quick-fire engagement during a lull in proceedings if customers are watching live sport, for instance.
The biggest challenge going forward will be the marketing of these products and ensuring they become a natural addition to the sports betting experience. As our industry starts to recover and adapt to a ‘new normal’ following a challenging few months, operators are now future-proofing their businesses by ensuring that their product offering appeals to a wide demographic, whether their preferred vertical is sports or casino, and that there is an easy and natural segue between the products. We are seeing a lot of interest in our games as a consequence.