Betway has introduced data-free betting to South Africa. Now, experts are wondering what the impact will have on the countries gambling enthusiasts – and even the rest of the continent.

World-renowned bookmaker Betway has just announced data-free access to its South African site. This mean that sports bettors will now be able to place bets without spending a cent on internet connectivity.

The move comes after months of the country’s bettors calling for such a service, and will no doubt take the sportsbook’s revenue to even greater heights. The data free option allows bettors to place bets on pre-match games, live sports and eSports, and to play the popular Four to Score prediction game. It also facilitates new sign ups and allows for bettors to claim bonuses, and make deposits and withdrawals using limited secure banking services.

In light of this new offering experts are wondering what impact the free facilities will have on South Africa – and possibly on Africa as a whole.

The Prohibitive Cost of Data

South Africa has often proven to have some of the most expensive data in the world. In 2020 it was ranked as 148th on a list of 228 countries listed in ascending order of mobile bandwidth prices. Though still cheaper than the US, Canada, and many other nations, it’s significantly more expensive than in other countries on the African continent.

Somalia is ranked 7th on the list, while Tanzania and Kenya come in 23rd and 41st respectively. Even more significantly, SA mobile data is pricier when bought in smaller bundles. The poorer members of the population are thus spending more per unit than their more privileged counterparts.

Betway are not the first to introduce free data access, however others in SA that have extended this offer are not sports betting brands. Big brands who offer free mobile app access  include banks like FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank, Capitec and ABSA, along with mobile phone providers like Cell C, MTN and Vodacom.

South Africans and Gambling

Although not conventionally considered a gambling country, SA citizens love the activity. Recent estimates suggest that at least one in ten South Africans indulge in sports betting and casino games on regularly, and that gamblers’ average monthly spend exceeds R150. Experts say that if the mean income were greater (that figure is less than R20,000 per month), the amount spent on gambling would be bigger too.

In short, this is a country with a great fondness for playing, watching and betting on sports. Wagering is curtailed largely by financial constraints, suggesting that if the lower socioeconomic groups had access to more expendable income, they’d use it to gamble more. Since mobile data is so costly, one of the biggest ways of freeing up this income is to provide data-free betting opportunities – exactly what Betway has done.

Increased Player Temptation

South Africa’s unemployment rate for 2019, according to Statista was 27.32%. That’s not as high as it was in 2002, but it’s also not as low as in 2008. The figures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout are unknown but point to an even more serious unemployment problem.

With financial issues and spare time due to unemployment, the promise of quick wins is understandably tempting. Gambling addiction is already an issue in SA, and the easier access that data-free betting provides could exacerbate it.

Is the Solution More Regulations?

On the other hand, online bookmakers make huge profits and could generate some much-needed tax revenue for South Africa – something especially necessary following the coronavirus outbreak.

Introducing stricter regulations would allow for more support for problem gambling, stricter control of underage betting, and proper taxation of operators. This is not a new argument, but perhaps it is more pertinent now. The same call has been made in other African countries where bookmakers and casinos are growing in popularity, but where online operators are not properly licenced by national authorities.

However, with data already so cheap in other nations, Betway’s free offer may not have the same effect there – suggesting that the sportsbook’s decision to make data-free wagers available to South Africans was especially shrewd. What we know for certain is that this new service is likely to be a game-changer in South Africa. Time will tell of its impact on the rest of the continent.

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