Gambling, land-based or online, is just a harmless way of having fun for most people. But some take it too seriously and end up losing their bankroll, getting into debt or becoming problem gamblers. Young people are especially at risk of becoming problem gamblers, which is why many experts feel they should not be granted access to any form of gambling.
Fortunately, the online casino gaming industry supports responsible gambling. Casinos, land-based as well as online, and regulatory bodies are continuously devising ways to prevent problem gambling and underage gambling.
South Africa has no online gambling laws, but its land-based gambling laws apply to online gambling too. Although online gambling is a grey area in South Africa, the laws regarding underage gambling are quite clear. To gamble in South Africa, you should be above 18, but those concerned about problem gambling want it raised to 21.
Among three African countries – Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria – South Africa has the biggest gambling market. In 2013, the country’s land-based casino gaming industry generated revenue of R16.5 billion.
South Africa is home to 37 licensed land-based casinos, which are much larger and offer more table games and slot games than Nigerian and Kenyan casinos. In addition, South Africa’s casino industry is better regulated and more well established that those of Nigeria and Kenya.
Since South Africa’s gambling industry is growing at a rapid pace, it becomes easier for young people to gain access to online as well as land-based casinos. According to the latest study of gambling activities among 3,879 young people in the age group of 17 – 35 residing in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ghana, more than half the youth in these countries are exposed to some form of gambling or the other.
Since young people enjoy the thrills of taking risks and are totally unaware of the harmful effects of uncontrolled gambling, their involvement in gambling activities usually results in problem gambling or addiction to gambling.
Many studies have shown that there are a number of young problem gamblers in Africa. One such study, based on Ethiopian high school students, shows that 73% of high school students had an experience of gambling. 37% of them were at risk for problem gambling and 7% were already problem gamblers or gambling addicts.
Studies conducted on Ethiopian adolescents also showed that males were at a higher risk for gambling problems than females. But this does not mean that females gamble less than the males. Young females prefer playing online casino games and lottery games, and the most popular gambling game among them is Fahfee. Studies have shown that young people are more interested in games such as bingo, pool games, casinos, sports betting, lotteries, and scratchcards.
Studies conducted on South African gamblers show that gamblers who reside in townships prefer playing cards and dice games to slots and lottery games. This makes such games easily accessible to vulnerable groups such as poor people living in urban areas and minors. A study conducted on gamblers in three townships of South Africa show that gambling problems are higher among poorer families (7%) when compared to richer families (3%).
Smartphones Make Gambling More Accessible
Smartphones have made gambling more accessible and affordable to an increasing number of young people across African countries. A large number of young people in South Africa live in poverty and unemployment and gambling gives them a risky and false promise of good days in the future. One of the most visited websites in Africa is SportPesa, after Google and Facebook.
A research group called Digital Skills Observatory, which operates with the help of funds granted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has shown that increased use of smartphones in Kenya has also led to increase in the time spent in gambling.
Young people prefer betting on the move as online betting sites allow them to spend as little as $0.10 on a game. Young gamblers reported that they used their winnings to purchase new electronic items or furnish their homes. Although increase in time spent on gambling activities has reduced the crime rate in various neighborhoods, the benefits outweigh the dangers as half of the respondents of the Digital Skills Observatory survey said that they gambled away all the money that they earned.
Several studies have shown the direct relationship between the age at which people are exposed to gambling and problem gambling. Younger people are definitely more at risk for problem gambling. The only way to solve the problem is by increasing the age at which young people are exposed to gambling by making it difficult for them to access online and land-based casinos, gambling products, and gambling activities and also by increasing the legal age for gambling from 18 to 21.
But how do adolescents, teenagers, and young people acquire specific gambling behaviors? A number of models have attempted to answer these questions. Some of them suggest that young people may get involved in such risky behaviors because of peer pressure. According to a survey, which was conducted in Uganda, 39% respondents admitted that they knew minors who gambled.
Surveys and studies show that minors gamble because of aggressive marketing on the part of the gambling industry, families that expose their youngsters to gambling when they are very young, and peer influence. A South African study shows that 13% gamblers had a problem gambler in their families when they are young. All these factors make young people believe that gambling is not only acceptable, but also a great source of income.
After taking into consideration the results of various studies that have been conducted and are still being conducted in different African countries, we feel that the online gambling industry will thrive only if it takes the welfare of its gambling customers seriously. Gambling regulators and casino operators can decrease problem gambling in societies only if they advocate responsible gambling and prevent minor gambling. The best way to achieve this is by raising the legal age for gambling from 18 to 21.