Africa’s betting boom is bringing virtual sports along for the ride

Sports betting is booming in markets across Africa. Aside from traditional sports, young, tech-savvy African players are increasingly turning to virtual sports, attracted by limitless betting opportunities.

Slotegrator’s specialist Jashwant Patel analyzes in this column the rise of virtual sports in Africa.
Driven by advances in technology and a growing population with a passion for sports — particularly football — the African market is experiencing a betting boom. But in addition to traditional sports betting,

African players are becoming fans of virtual sports.

Kenyan authorities recently lowered the betting stakes tax to 7.5% to lure sportsbook operators back to the country after an extended dispute over taxes.

An estimated 60% of Nigeria’s 200+ million citizens participate in some form of betting.

South Africa
South Africa accounts for nearly 50% of the continent’s total gaming revenue.

The Gaming Commission of Ghana allowed licensees to offer online sports betting products during the pandemic.

The government of Tanzania legalized virtual sports in early 2021.

Virtual sports are software-generated simulations of sports events.

The events are shorter than live sports events, usually only 90 seconds to a few minutes long, and represented with highly detailed graphics reminiscent of top-quality video games. Developers use CGI technology to render the action in exquisite detail, but what’s beneath the surface is just as stunning. The best virtual products are defined by both realistic graphics and realistic odds. Virtual sports are seemingly no different from a slot machine, as they’re based on an RNG. However, there’s a key difference; the RNG creates a whole range of outcomes, and players are offered realistic odds to evaluate as they make their bets.

And aside from realistic graphics and odds, there can even be realistic results. The Virtual Grand National, first launched in 2017 as a companion to the UK’s flagship horseracing event, has consistently produced a mix of top finishers similar to those in the real event. In 2018, the simulation even predicted the real winner, Tiger Roll.

Virtual sports vs. esports vs. real sports

There are some critical differences between virtual sports, real sports, and esports.
Traditional, real-life football matches only take place at regularly scheduled intervals. A real-life match lasts 90 minutes and sometimes happens only once a week. Virtual football matches, on the other hand, take place constantly and last only a few minutes, with results published immediately.

The terms “virtual sports” and “esports” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, these are two distinct betting products. While virtual sports are simulations of sporting events, esports competitions pit professional gamers against each other in games like DotA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Why do African players like virtual sports?

Virtual sports appeal to tech-savvy, football-loving bettors who prefer to make larger volumes of smaller bets. That just happens to overlap almost perfectly with modern African bettors. A look at players’ age and affinity for technology can show why the widespread enthusiasm for sports betting includes virtuals.
Youth is a defining feature of African demographics. According to data from UN-Habitat, 35% of the continent’s population, or around 420 million people, is between the ages of 15 and 35. Sports bettors across the globe tend to be on the younger side, and even more so in Africa. A recent survey by GeoPoll found that 54% of sub-Saharan Africans between the ages of 17 and 35 had at least tried betting.
African punters often prefer betting via mobile.

According to GeoPoll, 75% of punters place bets using their mobile phones. As rates of mobile penetration skyrocket across the continent, in some countries, it has become more likely that sports bettors will have a mobile phone than it is that they will have a laptop.

For younger generations who have grown up in the world of high-quality graphics and video games, virtual sports could be their first sports betting experience. Punters who are new to navigating the seemingly complex system of odds can see virtual sports betting as a training ground for the real thing. Virtuals provide a higher frequency of opportunities to lay down a bet, so punters can get used to the systems of odds.

For experienced punters, virtuals offer the limitless betting opportunities they’ve been dreaming of. Virtual sports bettors often stop making an effort to watch the event within a few weeks; the long-term draw is the thrill of staking and winning money. This is the experience that punters love, as much if not more than the sport itself: playing the odds and testing their gut instinct.

The vast majority of sports bettors in Africa place bets very often, but in small amounts. In Kenya, for example, most punters bet at least once a week — and some even daily. According to a 2019 report by IPSOS and GeoPoll, the average Kenyan aged 18-29 spends KES 1,550 ($14/€12) per month on betting. The low-volume, high-frequency betting habit is perfectly suited to virtual sports betting.

There’s also legal status to consider. In Nigeria, for example, games of skill are permitted, while games of chance are not. It takes skill to evaluate the odds before making a wager, so Nigerian punters can legally bet around the clock on virtual sports.

Virtual sports fit the lifestyle and mindset of young, tech-savvy punters. And the final reason that virtual sports are growing in popularity is how well they fit the lifestyle of the modern punter. With 24/7 availability, thousands of events per day, and the fact that virtual sports never have an off-season, and there’s never a shortage of events to bet on. (…)

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