Problem Gambling in Africa

The gambling disorder has adverse psychological, social, economic, legal and physical outcomes. This article focuses on countries struggling with gambling problems in sub-Saharan Africa, with evidence of negative implications and a summary of possible interventions.

Addictive gambling raising concerns among countries in sub-Saharan Africa

As Africa continues to aggressively open its doors for online sports betting, problem gambling could be just another looming crisis for most countries in the sub-Sahara. Data from the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation has indicated that at least 18,500 people have sought for its services in the last 18 years. The foundation is tasked with providing free gambling and treatment services to those citizens struggling with problem gambling.

If the gaming industry have to be seriously considered as one of the transformative economic development solutions among countries in Africa, it must be acknowledged that gambling regulations should be used to strike a balance between public protection and generation of revenues. Recent years have seen many parts of the developing world witness disturbing levels of gambling availability, public participation and expenditure. The spike in growth has been experienced in regions including the sub Saharan Africa.

Many legal casinos have indeed launched their operations in a number of countries in the sub-Sahara including Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Gambia, Senegal, Namibia, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Gabon, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania and Swaziland. South Africa alone is known to have at least 38 legally founded casinos.

While the gambling industry has been mentioned as a huge contributor to the growth in economy through tax revenues and employment, unfortunately the problem of addiction is increasingly becoming a public health concern especially among Africa’s young population.

Young gamblers in the Sub-Sahara

Sub-Saharan Africa homes the world’s largest young population with future projections indicating doubling figures. Youths in parts of sub-Sahara such as South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria where massive expansion of the gambling industry has occurred in the past years remain dangerously exposed to gambling practices.

A recent gambling evaluation survey involving 3,879 youths from South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania reported 54% of youths in the continent as having engaged in gambling activities of some form. The study reported Kenya as the nation with the highest count of youths found to engage in active gambling in Africa to a tune of 76%. Uganda was ranked second at 57% with Ghana recording the lowest count at 42%.

Youths from these regions have shown high propensity for risks without being aware of the potential undesirable impact in the areas of physical and mental health, academic performance, family, peer relationships and crime.

Importantly earlier studies have already pointed out a significant burden of addictive gambling among youths in sub-Sahara. One study targeting Ethiopian adolescents reported about 73% of the population as having gambled. 37% of these were at a severe problematic gambling risk while 7% were already pathological gamblers. Most studies in the region put young males at a higher risk for problematic gambling. However, African females have also become increasingly involved in “closet” gambling forms including internet-based lotteries and games.


Gambling has been found to heavily impact individuals, families, communities and the larger society in the negative sense. At individual levels, gambling problems in young gamblers may manifest in both long-term physical (e.g., peptic ulcer disease, cardiovascular disease and hypertension) and psychiatric (e.g., depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation) conditions.

Minors and the youth in the school going bracket are also found to record declining performance in their studies, with some losing their school/tuition fees in illegal gambling and engaging in risky behavior including drug abuse and premarital sex. Personal finances is another important concern. South Africa, for instance, has recorded many problems of debt, family financial downturns and rising poverty levels among its gambling community.


As countries in sub-Saharan Africa continue with the efforts to advance their gambling industry, institution of formal laws and regulations that govern the resulting boom and monitor the impact this gambling has to the society constitutes key policy initiatives.

The Gaming Regulators Africa Forum (GRAF) is a step in the right direction. Founded in 2003 and bringing together 10 African nations, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, and Swaziland, the forum lays a critical role in advancing quality regulation of sports betting and gaming.

Not stopping at industry regulations, other policy implementations should include those that are geared towards the prevention of pathological gambling. For instance, enactment, institutionalization and funding of the initiatives that seek to prevent gambling disorders will go a long way.

Such programmatic policies will also include community devilment and public awareness, health services professional trainings, amassing of resources to treat and prevent gambling diseases, industry education forums for retailers and venue operators, all of whose focus is establishing an environment that supports and as well as enhancing individual skills.

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