The rise and rise of online betting

It’s clear that the smart bet is online, because the digital future has arrived, and it’s landed in a way that none of us expected.
Nitesh Matai
By Nitesh Matai, General manager, SunBet, the online betting arm of Sun International.
Johannesburg, 10 May 2021

In a world in which it seems like our entire lives have moved online, it’s no surprise that entertainment has also gone virtual. And, given that none of us expects to go back to working, shopping and socialising the way we did before lockdown, there is no reason to expect this trend to dissipate in the near future.

We’ve seen a global move towards online shopping, with Nielsen stating in May last year that 37% of South Africans are shopping more online. A more recent McKinsey survey, from last November, shows that 79% of South Africans have tried new shopping behaviours, while 90% have moved to online and omni-channel platforms.

A study from Grand View Research shows the global online gambling market – a sector that is still illegal in SA, as opposed to the sports betting sector which is legal – is expected to grow at 11.5% on a compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2027. This, it says, is driven by high Internet penetration and increasing use of mobile phones.

We cannot say that South Africa has a high level of Internet penetration, with broadband still direly needed across vast swathes of our countryside, but where there is Internet connectivity, we can expect online betting to broadly follow international online gambling trends.

However, many more people are able to get online thanks to the increase in penetration in smartphones. According to ITWeb, the tremendous boost in mid- to low-cost smartphone brands coming into South Africa saw the country’s smartphone penetration jumping to over 90% in 2019.

According to the 2020 State of the ICT Sector report, put together by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, South Africa’s smartphone penetration reached 91.2% in 2019, up from 81.7% in 2018.

In fact, as more South Africans move online and start transacting more and more from a computer or mobile device, all forms of online gaming will also grow. Grand View points out that consumption of services in the worldwide online market has grown 28% over the last 10 years, and online casinos are following suit.

As more South Africans move online and start transacting more and more from a computer or mobile device, all forms of online gaming will also grow.

Research by bears out Grand View’s hypothesis. Online betting was one of the standout sectors globally when others felt the pinch of lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Growing betting pool

Anecdotal evidence from Forbes points to online sports betting growing in popularity. Author Jeff Bell, arguing for better regulation, said that, of the 23.2 million Americans that were expected to bet on the Super Bowl this year, a record 7.6 million said they would bet online, up 63% from the previous year.

“The sports betting market in the US generated $1 billion in revenue in 2020, and that number is projected to grow sixfold by 2023,” writes Bell.

“If betting becomes legalised in all 50 states, estimated revenue will exceed $19 billion a year. New multibillion-dollar marketing niches will expand as media and tech start-ups compete for consumer attention.”

The local picture

In South Africa, where online betting is regulated, our own research shows that online betting on favourite sports and other activities is growing. In fact, we have proven to be resilient during lockdown when casinos and entertainment centres had to shut their doors.

We expect our gaming business to continue to grow, even as lockdown restrictions are eased and, ultimately lifted. This is in contrast to physical casinos, which have seen an understandable decline due to lockdown, and will take quite some time to recover to what can be considered normal levels.

The smart bet is online, because the future we were all imagining a few years ago has arrived, and it’s landed in a way that none of us expected. It’s changed our lives forever, and with that come some advantages, and some disadvantages.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage, and we’ve seen this with studies on working from home, is that people simply spend too much time in front of their screens. They get lost in what they are doing, and don’t take time out for breaks.

Sports betting, or indeed any form of online gaming, social or monetary, can be very engaging and as with all things in life, moderation is key: take breaks, step away from your screen, and – if you think it’s becoming an issue – speak with someone on the end of 0800 006 008.