Chinese smartphones and WhatsApp enable offshore betting

Online gambling is currently illegal in Zimbabwe, but during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, concluding on Sunday, the East African nation is home to a growing grey market drawing a number of customers — mainly unemployed young adults — to tap into offshore international internet betting platforms.

The combination of cheap Chinese smartphones, WhatsApp organizing, and offshore websites where people place bets is helping people in Zimbabwe defy online betting rules and power outages, and wager ruthlessly on the unpredictable results of matches in this historic World Cup — in which Morocco rode its underdog status to the semifinals, the first African team to do so.

“My family needs to eat. In a day, l need $5 to decently survive my wife and two kids, [which is] not easy in Zimbabwe. Unlawful web sports betting is my salvation.”

– explained Nathan Mlilo, 24, who lives in Mutare, the country’s third biggest city.

Africa has the largest number of people who engage in online sports betting between the age of 15 and 24, according to a study from Delasport in 2021. Gambling and sports betting offline in physical spaces is not something new in Zimbabwean culture. Betting houses in physical locations throughout Zimbabwe have helped jobless punters get by in a country with one of the world’s most concerning rates of youth joblessness.

Companies like AfricaBet Zimbabwe and Regency Casino which offer physical stores have historically earned the lion’s share of profits in sports betting across Zimbabwe, leading some critics to blame them for troubling betting addictions affecting the populace.

As the frequency of desperate youth taking advantage of cellphone internet betting increases, historical offline betting agencies in Zimbabwe are getting a run of their money as youth transcend the legal grey zone to place bets on offshore websites that, on paper, are currently not lawful in Zimbabwe.

That could be changing soon: A report in iGaming Next quotes Zimbabwe information minister Monica Mutsvangwa as saying:

“Government is losing substantial amounts of revenue through numerous leakages and legislative inadequacies that need to be plugged.”

But with online gambling yet to be legal, Zimbabwe’s youth are increasingly favoring offshore web-based betting, largely because of the nation’s economics. Zimbabwe’s Lotteries and Gaming Act of 1998 demands that 10% of any sports betting revenues and 15% of lottery winnings must be paid off to the government as tax, notes, Gregory Bande a tax expert in the capital Harare.

“That 10%, that’s my family’s milk money, corn money, grocery money. Hence, to dodge punitive taxes, we are decamping to overseas web betting platforms and squeezing the juice of the World Cup as much as possible.”

– says Jardin Sekwa, 26, a graduate teacher who earns only $170 monthly and is hardly able to feed his family of four for more than 10 days each time he gets paid.(…)

A shift to digital betting

Zimbabwe has roughly 15 million inhabitants; Zimstats, the government’s official statistics agency, reports 13.64 million active mobile connections and 4.65 million active internet users. According to The Herald, that means 87 percent of Zim households are connected. Those connections happen mostly through inexpensive Chinese smartphone brands like Xiaomi, Huawei, Gtel, and ZTE.

Benji Garikai, 23, in the online World Cup betting WhatsApp group headed by Nathan, revealed that placing wagers on offshore sites could become his career for a long time despite graduating with an accountancy diploma three years ago.

“If my online World Cup bets are a foretaste of what’s to come. I look forward to earning enough money to sustain myself as an online sports bettor and dump my accountancy diploma, which has never gifted me a job.”

– he observed. (…)

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