Editor’s Note: January 22, 2019

Gambling is good for business – not development

Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni has reportedly ordered a ban on online sports betting due to its impact on young people. According to finance minister David Bahati existing licences will not be renewed, and no new ones are to be issued.

Sports betting is becoming big business in Africa on the back of improved connectivity, led by Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. Sports gambling revenue in South Africa has more than doubled since 2010, and is expected to reach $462m this year. Leading betting firms in Nigeria and Kenya boast millions of users.

It’s a nice business story, with a problem. 

The main target market is Africa’s connected youth. Up to 76% of Kenyans between 17 – 35 have gambled online, with 57% in Uganda. Much of this youth is unemployed, with dim economic prospects. The risk is a debt and addiction epidemic – the main driver behind Uganda’s decision.

But banning sports betting is not viable. It’s part of a fast-growing global industry worth around $250bn.

What’s needed is regulation – South Africa is the only country on the continent that meaningfully regulates gambling.

Efforts to do so face opposition from the industry, but there are considerations beyond its bottom line here, and gambling‘s credentials as a driver of development are dubious.

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