The onus on operators regarding a plethora of issues, such as compliance, responsibility and safer gambling, has arguably never been as prevalent, with global lockdowns heightening that attention further still as online sectors boomed throughout 2020.

It could be said that responsible gaming and compliance are at the forefront of the industry in Europe, but how does that translate into the African jurisdictions?

Taking a central focus on South Africa, a four person panel at this week’s SBC Digital Summit Africa, moderated by Andrew Morgan, director of commercial growth and product strategy at Dam Mad Media Limited, delved into what methods are being used to monitor responsible gambling within the country, and looked at how the COVID shutdown impacted the country.  

“We have always insisted that this is not the sole responsibility of the regulator, it is an industry concern. We always believed that to be truly effective on this front we require involvement from other stakeholders as well, and that was included in the government structures,” began Robin Bennett, head of department: regulatory compliance at the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board.

With Bryan Arumugam, senior manager of corporate government at the National Gambling Board, taking the opening remarks and elaborating: “I just want to highlight that from a national point of view, when we speak of gambling generally, we recognise that the industry is a significant contributor to the overall economy of the country.

“In the last financial year it was ZAR 2.2bn and in terms of the last count 28,500 jobs in direct employment alone, so from that point of view the positive aspects of the industry are great. 

Punters need to know the risks and what is available to them”

“However, what we try to ensure, in terms of a government perspective, is to ensure that it always strikes a balance between those positive benefits, in terms of the economy and creating of jobs, and balancing that against the socioeconomic impact of gambling, which would be talking about problem gambling and how it affects communities.

“We take in to account that fact that in our country we have a high number of unemployed people, and we have a high number of people on lower income, and it’s very important that in our messaging we constantly make the point for people to understand that in South Africa, and generally in the world, that gambling is not a form of income generation or a way to supplement your income. It’s purely a form of entertainment or recreation.

“So, once people misunderstand that and just think that this is a way to get money they can easily go astray and end up developing a gambling problem. That’s why education and awareness is critical.”

Adding: “Punters need to know the risks and what is available to them, in case they find themselves or someone close to them may have a gambling problem. Who do they refer them to? How do they get help? What help is available to them?

“So that we can deal with these things and nip them in the bud perhaps, and get them the relief before it goes too far. Problem gambling is not a high number in terms of the likelihood of it happening, but in terms of the impact in the few cases where it does happen, it can be quite catastrophic in terms of how it can impact individuals and families.”

As Alan Weinrib, CEO of Web Gaming Consultants, offered one example of an initiative that he believes could pay dividends in the country: “I agree entirely that it’s not the gambling board’s responsibility, problem gambling, however they can’t divorce themselves from the issue.

“…the lockdown situation that we experienced had the potential to be a breeding ground for problem gambling”

“A simple thing, in my opinion, that should definitely be done, is that it should be a licensing requirement for anyone that carries on their business in South Africa that they, have to by law, share self exclusion lists because these are people that are clearly looking for help.”

In light of the current global health pandemic, talk quickly turned to how the shutdown of businesses affected South Africa and it’s punters.

Looking at a situation which saw all land-based gambling activities closed and the only opportunity to legally gamble being online, which subsequently become affected by global sporting cancellations, Arumugam noted: “Obviously as a consequence of that the industry itself suffered greatly, because they’ve had to consider how that would affect their staff, in terms of trying to avoid losing people or dismissing anyone, and trying to reduce the financial pressure on them, whilst we waited to get to a point where they could start generation income again.” 

With many provinces affected from a financial point of view, Arumugam said that support also had to increase to help individuals on a welfare basis, as well as determining if people were becoming agitated because they couldn’t gamble or if illegal outlets have increasingly been accessed.

“From our point of view I do believe that the lockdown situation that we experienced had the potential to be a breeding ground for problem gambling,” Bennett added.

Acknowledging the potential to cross-sell players from one vertical to another, one key concern raised was if sports bettors, whose activity is typically spread across lengthy matches, are introduced to titles that commence new games every few minutes.

They could certainly learn something from the US”

“The worst thing that could happen is that someone plays for the first time and starts winning, because they believe that’s what it basically is. 

“So, effectively my belief would be that, depending on how people basically handled gambling during lockdown, where they continue with that now, is that it might be a problem at a later stage.”

Bennett then moved on to offer an insight into the thought process behind proposed advertising cuts during the year, another issue that has caught headlines in various jurisdictions during recent times.

“What we considered during lockdown, because obviously all we had was online bookmakers being able to operate, there was a query that said what are we going to do about advertising.

“And personally, I would want to say that we were actually going to stop all advertising of online bookmakers during lockdown so as not to promote it, but then the other problem is that we’ve got illegal operators.

“The good thing about the advertising is that you can let the public know who the legal operators are, so we decided not to do that and still allow the advertising, however, we tried to make sure that it was not excessive during that time.”

As the Pronet Gaming sponsored sessions drew to a close, Weinrib swung the conversation back to a potential uptake of illegal operations to issue a warning of a previous lack of control in the US: “They could certainly learn something from the US. The US at one stage prohibited gambling and what happened was, within four months there were over 900 operators operating from the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Ireland and they had no control over it whatsoever.”

SBC Digital Summit Africa (6 – 7 October 2020) is the leading virtual conference and exhibition for the African betting and gaming industry. It features more than 60 expert speakers sharing insights and ideas about the future of markets across Africa, with all 17 conference sessions available both live and on-demand. 

Delegates can also enjoy a programme of networking roundtables and an interactive product display area showcasing the latest industry innovations. Click here to register for your free pass.