Gambling occupies an unusual position in African culture – not least given the diversity of perspectives, religions and types of society over the continent. Parts of Africa are socially conservative in nature, including areas which are majority Muslim or which continue to adhere to social rules that sprung up during colonial times. Others are under-developed in terms of infrastructure, meaning that it’s impossible for casinos or online gambling sites to spring up.
And yet others are highly urbanized and have an emerging middle class, with a huge uptake in entrepreneurship. This has created a generation with new-found disposable income, which has opened up opportunities for gambling sites to be built and operated. But how has this position been reached, and why have attitudes towards gambling changed in some areas but not in others? This article will answer this question and more.
Where to gamble
Before looking at the reasons for the shift in attitudes towards gambling, it’s worth first of all exploring where people can and cannot gamble on the African continent. Countries like Sudan, Libya and more all prohibit gambling outright. But thanks to the Internet, it’s now perfectly possible for most people to gamble no matter where they are. Smartphone penetration on the African continent is expected to reach around 500 million by 2025, which means that many African people can now seek out online gambling content if they so wish.
Whether or not they are doing this legally, however, is another matter altogether. Only three nations on the African continent currently regulate online gambling, although many countries ban it altogether and have substantial restrictions on physical, in-person casinos and other sites.
Wealth and status
The reasons why attitudes to gambling have shifted are many, but the first is money. Wealth plays a complex role on the African continent: the middle class that is there is growing, especially in parts of the continent like South Africa – although it still remains small compared to the size of the equivalents in the west.
This has had interesting consequences for gamblers. Gambling and gaming are recreational activities enjoyed by people of all wealth levels, but some evidence shows that it’s the people who are on the lower end of the wealth strata who are gambling more. According to one study of gamblers in Nigeria, millions of younger people who are out of fixed work are spending millions of dollars in total every single day on sport gambling websites. As is the case in other places, this can be interpreted as a sign of poverty rather than a sign of high disposable income: by gambling, those who are less well-off may be hoping to win big. It’s a trend mimicked by most other countries too, including in national lotteries.
Conversely, of course, the casinos and other in-person gambling outlets in big, relatively liberal African cities like Johannesburg tend to be occupied by the middle and upper classes, who can afford entry fees and large deposits. The same sense of aspiration that drives the younger Nigerians to gamble – an idea that a particular lifestyle can be attained through gambling – is also at work here, although the need for a big win is not as strong.
Age is also an important factor when it comes to attitudes to gambling in Africa. Younger Africans are becoming increasingly connected to the wider world, and the importing of Western movies and music are contributing to a globalized Africa in which cultural reference points – like casinos – are highly visible. It’s no surprise, then, that the supply of such services is also increasing as operators seek to cash in.
And as mentioned above, the smartphone’s role in the rise of gambling cannot be forgotten. Smartphones are a gateway to casino websites and more, especially in jurisdictions in which there are controls on how and where to gamble. As smartphone usage and ownership rises, it’s highly likely that there will also be a consequent rise in the use of gambling sites.
Overall, the picture for gamblers in Africa is mixed. Some countries still do not permit gambling at all, and it’s now common for citizens to be driven underground to gamble on their smartphones if they wish. However, attitudes are changing. From trends in wealth and income inequality or to age and smartphone usage, there are lots of ways in which perceptions of this particular leisure activity are altering.