Ethiopia appears to be the latest African country to have caught the gambling fever that is sweeping the continent. Until recently, the nation lagged behind Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, who are leading the charge in the burgeoning sports betting industry by a considerable amount.
One of the main reasons for sports betting activities rising so dramatically in Africa over the past few years is technological development. Smartphones and mobile money apps put betting opportunities into the hands of many people who would have had no way of accessing them until recently. In Ethiopia particularly, telecoms infrastructure improvements have made it much easier and convenient to wager on sports events.
Like many African nations, the online gambling laws in Ethiopia are not clearly defined and the sports betting industry’s economic potential remains largely untapped. More than half of the young people in a 2017 survey of sub-Saharan Africa said they had tried gambling, so the size of the potential market and what the funds could do for different countries should not be underestimated.
Sophonias Thilahun of Bet251, an operator planning to increase its presence in Ethiopia, refers to its market as ‘a cash cow’. During Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign, the country had a hotel casino, but Marxist junta The Derg closed this down in the 1980s. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which succeeded The Derg, was also suspicious of gambling.
Now, however, the situation is changing. The first operating licence was granted in 2016 and today almost 20 bookmakers are active in the country, with most having been given their permits within the past year. With the appointment of relatively liberal prime minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018, the government has softened its stance even more and has allowed gambling advertisements on television and radio.
At this stage foreign gambling firms remain prohibited, but the huge potential tax revenue is motivating the state’s reconsidered position, according to Thilahun. They may soon even permit casinos to operate, so perhaps the market will open more. As with all gambling sectors, regulation is key to the country benefiting properly from the greater tax income.
Player Protection is Vital
Regulated gambling industries can generate much-needed tax revenue for African governments, as has been demonstrated in several countries already. If the sector is properly legislated, it also protects customers, helps to prevent underage betting, and supports responsible gambling initiatives.
Since part of the reason for Ethiopia’s recent boom is a deepening sense of economic frustration among its youth, these initiatives and resources are especially important. One bettor commented that almost everyone they saw was playing for money rather than entertainment, spurred on by seeing a few people gain big windfalls.