Sports betting is becoming big in Africa and smartphones may be why

 Most smartphone gamblers are young and say they see betting as a way to make money.

Since smartphones first came on the market in the early noughties, they’ve become the world’s must-have item. About 3 billion people (40 percent of the human race) have one, and that number is growing every year. That’s helped along by the fact that the cost of handsets and data keeps falling, which makes smartphones ever-more affordable to people on lower incomes.

Indeed, the place where uptake is growing fastest is Sub-Saharan Africa, a low-income area which is home to half of the planet’s extreme poorTwo-thirds of its population are expected to have a smartphone by 2025 (up from around a quarter today).

As with elsewhere in the world, the increase in smartphone use is having an impact on Sub-Saharan economies. And one of the ways it appears to doing so is by growing the area’s gambling industry. That’s because lots of people - particularly young men - are using their phones to place bets on sports.

Of course, gambling is not a new thing, so part of this trend just reflects the fact that young people everywhere are more likely to use online platforms for their everyday business. But smartphones do seem to also be actively encouraging people to gamble, by making it easy to place a bet even in remote areas, giving users access to financial services which can loan them money to gamble with, and by giving them a way to follow more sports events from around the world in the first place.

All of this is good news for gambling companies, which will make more money. Because that money is taxed, it also means more revenue for local governments. And of course, smartphone gambling is advantageous for everyone who get happiness from having the odd flutter. But gambling also causes great harm to the people who get addicted to it and/or lose more than they can afford. And there’s a growing worry that smartphone-betters in Sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable.

Compared to many other areas of the world, young people in Africa are both more likely to be financially insecure (only one-sixth have steady work and more than a third are unemployed) and less likely to have a social safety net to fall back upon (such as affordable treatment for addiction or unemployment benefits). They also seem to be particularly prone to regarding betting as a legitimate route to making money rather than a bit of fun. Considering that the gambling industry is built on the premise that almost everyone will lose in the long run, this strategy is almost always going to backfire.

Read our explainer on: technology.

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