Of 16 million Zimbabweans, many are gambling as land-based casinos are legal. As more than 50% of nation's population now has access to Internet and mobile phones are usually the only means of doing so, the online gambling activities are skipping a step and are going from zero to mobile in a hurry.
In Zimbabwe there is currently no legislation regarding online gambling; it is neither explicitly legal nor illegal. This state of do-what-you-will leaves the door open for many Zimbabweans to freely gamble online using their mobile devices - and many are jumping at the opportunity to do so.Driven the uncertainty of income in this informal economy with a high unemployment rate, many citizens, particularly those who are young and unemployed, are turning to gambling as a way to make money fast and pay their bills.
One of the reasons for the switch to online gambling and not the land-based casinos is the social stigma that goes with this activity that has long had a negative reputation in Zimbabwe. Gambling has been almost universally frowned upon as a social vice, although this perception started changing in recent years.
Many young people prefer to gamble online as it not only avoids any chance of a social stigma but is a more convenient way to access their favourite games - and they're using their mobile phones to do that.
The same is true in other countries, albeit under different circumstances. The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) publishes detailed statistics about habits of UK gamblers every year, so it's always a useful insight into how a market is shaped. We can detect the trends in the UK as they're definitely coming to Zimbabwe as well.
The UKGC report from 2018 finds that 96% of online gamblers gamble at home, but 55% of all online gamblers have used a smartphone or a tablet to gamble.
Use of laptops for gambling has been declining steadily from 50% in 2017 to 45% in 2018, and in 2019 the switch happened - mobile devices are now #1. Since 2019, 50% of all online gamblers use mobile phones (44% the previous year), which is a shift that's helped by younger generations with 76% of 18-24 year olds having gambled on mobile phone.
The trend is expected to continue this year, and we'll know for sure in February 2021 when the UKGC publishes a new annual report about gambling habits of UK citizens.
While playing online slots remains the most popular gambling activity, the recent innovations have allowed people to get a full live dealer experience from the comfort of their own home. Even on mobile. There are now four major software providers that produce live dealer software for online casinos, and the selection of games is growing. The latest addition was live baccarat, with live craps coming up this month.
It's obvious that this quick shift towards gambling on your hand-held mobile device is good for the players but is also not very good for the economy if it cannot find a way to make money from the activity. Unregulated markets with no government control don't have a way to get any kind of income from the online gambling activities.
Various countries have approached this issue in different ways, including total ban and government monopolies. Allowing every operator to apply for a licence has proven to be the best way to regulate online gambling, protect the players and generate income. By issuing licences - and getting paid for them on an annual basis - the government also has the power to revoke a licence, giving them firm control over the operator. This also allows a country to profit from all the income gained in the market, same way foreign companies such as Coca-Cola are taxed for making money in Zimbabwe.
We'll see in which direction will Zimbabwe be trending when it comes to online gambling regulation, but one thing's for sure - gambling in Zimbabwe is now primarily mobile, conducted on smartphones and this trend will only increase.
The lack of proper banking infrastructure will continue to deter online gambling activites in Zimbabwe, although many of the street smart young citizens are adopting Bitcoin at a rapid pace and are thereby circumventing any possible road blocks on their way to making money fast.