Following the opening of the company’s African offices based in Rwanda, Crucial Compliance set a precedent to prioritise responsible gambling on the continent through an advocacy workshop in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Launched in collaboration with UK-based online-focused child protection organisation Virtually Safe and Teens Can Code, a charity increasing access to technology for young Africans, Crucial Compliance hosted a safer gambling workshop looking to educate young people on safer gambling, understanding vulnerability and gambling regulations. 

In this discussion, Crucial Compliance CEO Paul Foster discusses the importance of this collaboration, how African player protection compares to other continents and the influence of mobile phones on irresponsible gambling. 

CasinoBeats: What does it mean to collaborate with Teens Can Code and Virtually Safe to reduce gambling harm?

Paul Foster: Crucial Compliance is committed to tackling the causes and effects of gambling related harm, in particular in markets where regulation requires strengthening and where systems like ours are very new to the marketplace.

For us, partnering with local organisations who are firmly rooted in communities was an important step to make sure that we heard a diverse variety of opinions around gambling, potential gambling harms and how to tackle them. We are not applying a cookie-cutter approach to our work in Africa and emerging markets, especially because of the very nuanced approaches required in different countries, cities and even communities. 

In Nigeria, we worked with award-winning non-profit organisation TeensCanCode, who sensitise young people and adults across the country on issues relating to online safety. Not only that, but their work provides access to technology skills for the next generation.

We know that if we want to reduce the potential for gambling harm, our work needs to begin with young people as well, so this partnership was a good blend of both approaches. At our recent event in Lagos, the first of its kind in the country, we heard from leading brands such as Betway, charity GambleAlert and a variety of gamblers and young people.

CB: How does the prevention of gambling harm in Africa, and Nigeria specifically, compare to that in other continents and jurisdictions?

PF: Africa as a continent is culturally adapted to gambling wherever you go. Betting is a normal activity amongst friends, community groups and increasingly so online and in local betting offices. 

Firstly, there is a massive misconception that gambling is a way to make money or an opportunity to get extra cash. We need to dispel this myth first of all. Awareness-raising and making ourselves known as trusted professionals in the sector was the beginning of our approach. 

“There does seem to be an issue with underage gambling in AFrica”

Crucial Compliance CEO Paul Foster

Instead of wading into the continent and imposing our own thoughts and opinions, we ran ‘pop up’ Hackathon events which were part-debate forums, part networking and part pitch events where local tech entrepreneurs and stakeholders could share ideas on how to prevent gambling harms. The approaches we saw put forward included a massive focus on education and training, operator intervention and using technology in lo-tech and hi-tech ways to provide assistance such as counselling, advice and support.

CB: What strategies have been undertaken by Crucial Compliance and these partnered organisations to ensure that gambling harm prevention is prioritised in countries such as Nigeria?

PF: Crucial has spent the first half of this year building brand awareness, running its Hackathon events and keying into local ecosystems. This has involved meeting betting operators, government departments and engaging with regulators and gambling Boards to put this issue on the agenda. 

It is fair to say that there is an acute awareness of the risk of gambling harm and a desire for change to happen in the continent. There is also the growing trend of big overseas operators launching brands on the continent without the same level of consumer protections that are demanded by Western regulators and governments. 

By being approachable and having these human conversations, we have made massive strides in reaching the desks of key stakeholders – many of whom you will see us collaborate and work with over coming months as part of a joined up strategy to nudge forward player protection.

CB: Would you say that the attitude towards harmful gambling and underage gambling differs between Africa and other continents, such as Europe, from a regulatory perspective?

PF: There does seem to be, anecdotally, an issue with underage gambling in Africa. It would be unfair to conflate poverty levels with the prevalence of underage betting in local communities but there does seem to be a link.

The regulatory landscape in Africa is mixed – some countries are applying a keen eye for detail to regulation such as Rwanda, where new betting licences are currently purged due to compliance concerns, or Kenya where there is heated political debate and even talk of some quite draconian measures to prevent under-age betting.

Most countries are applying a sensible balance of consumer awareness and better ID verification, though the application and veracity of those tools is mixed. This is something that can be improved upon.

“We are committed to supporting the industry to be compliant”

Crucial Compliance CEO Paul Foster

CB: Can you explain the link between access to a mobile phone and gambling harm in Nigeria?

PF: Contrary to what some might think, access to the internet and smartphones is fairly widespread across Africa. Even the unbanked find ways to gamble and this shows how much of a powerful stronghold local betting shops have with consumers.

Many local betting shops are also social spaces, with friends betting between each other. It is not necessary to have a mobile phone or internet access to gamble in Africa as many other forms of betting, including via mobile wallets, SMS and betting slips, are still commonplace.

CB: What other steps are Crucial Compliance willing to take as the partnership with Virtually Safe and Teens Can Code develops over time?

PF: Crucial Compliance is working with a selection of partners, including gambling Boards, NGOs, education sector and researchers to take an evidence-based approach to its strategy in Africa. We are committed to supporting the industry to be compliant, explore player protection further and we are excited about the potential of gaming brands to do good in their communities as part of the normal way they do business. We say we make change with one operator at a time and with each meeting we hold and each conversation we have in Africa, the message becomes clearer and clearer. 

Entering the continent is a long-term approach but one which is worthwhile – Africa has the biggest populous of young people in the world on the continent, with a steep rise in sports betting and a need to prevent entrenched addictive behaviours and further degradation of communities by bringing this industry and local regulators up to date. 

Work with the likes of TeensCanCode, RwandOpp, tech hubs, local government and betting brands themselves are part of our blended approach to hone in on the real issues and make a change from a multitude of perspectives. We invite anyone in the sector in Africa to talk to us about their developments and partner with us to make a real change.