The betting industry in Zimbabwe has experience huge growth over the past eighteen months, according to our analysis of local betting houses, and technology has a great deal to do with it. Normally, such a trend in gambling gets casually attributed to the steadily increasing popularity of foreign sports leagues. The English Premiership and the Spanish La Liga come to mind.
Another factor also casually associated with the increasing popularity of betting (“punting” is the most appropriate term) is the high unemployment rate in Zimbabwe. The young and idling jobless, the argument goes, find nothing better to do with their lives and end up pouring in hours and hours into a feckless hobby.
But explaining the recent success of the industry is not as simple as the appeal of the UEFA Champions League, or the absence of enough employment opportunities in Zimbabwe.
Other factors are at play here, and the big one you may have never seen coming is this: technology, and how much the prospect of using technology appeals to ordinary Zimbabweans.
AfricaBet, and all of its competitors in town (SuperBet, MegaBet, etc) now have self-service terminals in their shops. This means desktop PCs and tablets – complete with touchscreen capability and fast internet connection – that patrons can use to access information on the internet. Checking past results, news, rankings, odds, and other bits and pieces of information – all these things are now only the touch of a button away.
The experience of betting, which used to be laborious and information-starved – a groping in the dark of sorts – has thus been transformed; users report feeling “plugged in” and “savvy” and even cool, as if they have suddenly become part of something larger; as if the experience of punting were now akin to something intrinsically fun, like procrastinating on Facebook, or watching fun videos on YouTube.
adding to that is the appeal of using tech and cool gadgets like iPads (helping drive more traffic into betting houses) as is the empowering feeling that comes from using the D.I.Y. (do it yourself) approach.
Internet meets business
Surging internet penetration in Zimbabwe has made it possible to expand into new areas where sports houses and punting were not known. It is that simple: the intersection of internet and business is a lucrative space with opportunities to be exploited. How many local entrepreneurs with offline businesses realize that?
Take AfricaBet for instance: in 2009, the company had only around 10 shops, mostly clustered around Harare. They grew, between 2010 and 2014, but this was only a steady upward climb that was nothing out of the ordinary. Then come 2015, and boom!, the house now literally has a chain, with 49 branches that are scattered all over the country.
That’s more than 400% growth in a little over a year.
What happened between 2010 and 2014? The internet happened. With companies like Liquid Telecom unrolling fiber link to different parts of Zimbabwe, companies like AfricaBet have followed suit. Fiber operators have brought down the cost of the internet, making it a viable, a doable thing for any betting houses, to avail the internet to their patrons. That is why growth of AfricaBet, as a particular example, started at the onset of Liquid’s fiber expansion and the subsequent fall in the cost of the internet. A classic case of cheaper broadband, greater business – showing how much the internet can open the doors of economic opportunity in a country like Zimbabwe that is troubled and challenged in almost every other respect.
The last hurdle
Advances in technology and its use often takes people ahead – and being ahead is a good thing. But sometimes, it takes people ahead of even the regulations and legislation that should govern the same technology. Such is the case with betting houses, who say that for all their use of cool gadgets and harnessing of the internet, some hurdles are yet to be jumped over.
One such hurdle is online betting, which is currently not allowed. The Gaming Board currently forbids any company registered in Zimbabwe from offering online betting, which is such a bummer because the infrastructure is already in place, and no good reasons have been given except vague concerns about security.
Currently, only tele-betting is possible remotely (betting via the phone, if you have an account with the shop), and any internet betting has to be done while inside the betshop. This takes away the point of the internet as something that simplifies and removes the need to do certain things in person rather than remotely, from anywhere.
Because of the stigma that still surrounds betting in society, crossing the last hurdle of updating the legislation will not only bring the tech revolution in the industry full circle, but it will grow the industry even more. Those who cannot show up in betting house will be able to do so from the comforts of their homes or offices, thanks to the power of the internet.
We await more developments in this increasingly popular industry