African countries are facing enormous regulatory challenges thanks to ever emerging technologies that have made most of the existing ICT laws obsolete.For example, regulations prohibiting gambling on in Kenya are being increasingly challenged by the popularity of casino apps available for any smartphone users in the country, as well as loopholes exploited by offerings of similar products on social networking sites.The ban on online gambling is common in African countries but there’s no policing. It is illegal for Ugandan companies to offer real money online wagering.However, new poker and slot apps available on mobile devices are not considered gambling because they don’t allow players to directly wager or win real cash.Commonly referred to as social casino games, they simulate real life wagering and keep users playing, sharing, and using real money to purchase in-game currency, extra credits, expansions and gifts.Much like other social games including Candy Crush, Words with Friends or Angry Birds, these games increase their reach through the user’s own social networks, as they constantly ask the player to invite their contacts to play.When signing in, players are asked to accept Terms and Conditions that allow for this form of promotion. The sign in page of the slots apps i have checked for example, says: This app may post on your behalf, including your high scores, games you played and more.Even though there is no conclusive evidence that social casino apps lead to gambling addiction, they do aid in the cultural normalisation of gambling. On Facebook, there are plenty of them including Zynga Poker, DoubleDown Casino, Slotomania, Betting Billionaire and MyVegas that are becoming increasingly popular. Industry reports reveal that the global social gambling market far exceeds real money online gambling with 170 million users per month versus 50 million users per month.But there is still a huge discrepancy in terms of revenue because social gambling generates $2 billion per month, while online gambling produces $36 billion.
Although in the strictest sense it is not yet possible to gamble through these apps, South Africa software developers I spoke to few weeks back are finding ways to monetise gambling. Without mentioning the company to avoid compromising my source of info contact, a start-up based in Cape Town that operates the largely on Facebook, bases its business model on sweepstakes.This strategy profits from a loophole in Facebook’s policies, as South Africa, doesn’t consider sweepstakes to be gambling.Such loopholes are an entry into the South African market if regulations loosen up.And there seems to be a move towards real life benefits derived from wins in virtual gambling. This pushes the limits of gaming further into the realm of real money wagering.Another app developed by a Johannesburg based company allows players to cash in their winnings in selected establishments for prizes that range from free meals to tickets for music or film shows.In Nigeria, there has a been a rise in gambling-themed apps that present inspirational narratives of personal achievement while interacting with the real world. One of them owned by a company based in Abuja promises a chance to live the millionaire lifestyle you can always dream of.The app players achieves this by using their knowledge of sporting events to bet big on Tennis, English Premier League, NBA and more and competing against your friends to see who knows their stuff. The popularity of these apps has cultural and ethical implications in a continent like Africa with an increasing high incidence of problem gambling. And these are evident in the merging of the gambling and gaming industries.The perceived risks of social casino games have raised concerns about public welfare.Just a few weeks ago, a Kenya national parliament member Jakoyo Midiwo was quoted in the media calling for new regulations on sports betting, social casino products, seeking the cooperation of gaming and gambling firms in the country like Sportpesa, the official sponsor of Hull City which plays in the English Premier League to make it illegal to supply social gambling and betting apps to minors. Other politicians in Kenya and other parts of Africa share the notion that sports betting, social casino apps are breeding new problem gamblers.Will sports betting and gambling companies become a theme park of risk for Africans? Given recent developments it is certainly a real possibility.