Source: In focus: the current state of gambling in Zimbabwe – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 26, 2019
Zimbabwe is a historic nation in southern Africa, with an estimated population of over 16 million. It’s also one of the 30 African nations where land-based gambling is legal. 21 casinos are shared between 11 cities, with five being located in the capital, Harare.
It’s gaming laws differ from several other countries in the diverse continent of Africa. Other nations, like Egypt, expressly forbid all forms of gambling (except for tourists) while others such as Kenya have fully embraced the market.
Then there are the countries where the laws get more confusing. South Africa, for instance, has over 40 land-based casinos – driving a large part of the country’s tourism. However, online gaming is banned. Anyone found engaging in the pursuit can be handed a hefty fine – or even a custodial sentence.
With the rise of internet gaming across the world, the issue is becoming more pressing in Zimbabwe. Is the country ready for the advance of online gambling, or will it have to change its approach?
Online gambling in Zimbabwe
In a country with endemic unemployment and political instability, gambling is viewed not only as an enjoyable pastime, but also a way to dream of winning big and escaping poverty. Betting on sports and horse racing are popular pursuits, as are visiting casinos.
The online gambling market is hugely popular in the West, including across Europe and the US. The global market is set to be worth $60 billion by 2020, with Zimbabwe no exception to this gaming phenomenon.
Until very recently this market simply didn’t exist in Zimbabwe, as most citizens didn’t have access to the technology required to game online. But now with over 50% of the population using the internet, this increased accessibility has brought an increase in demand and created a need for clearer legislation.
The government has yet to catch up with the online gambling industry. So far, online gambling has neither been explicitly forbidden nor permitted. The result is that many players are heading online to have a flutter on their favourite games. To see this for yourself, check out 888 which is a great online casino offering its own unique slots. Added to the ability to play them from the comfort of your own home, or if you’re on the move, it’s perhaps no surprise that this form of gambling has generated so much interest in Zimbabwe as it has elsewhere in the world.
One of the most concerning aspects of the absence of laws governing the remote sector in Zimbabwe is the lack of protections for players. For example, currently there is no legal requirement to stop those under 18 – the minimum legal gambling age in the country – from accessing gambling sites. What’s more, with no taxes being paid on the winnings, there’s no government revenue coming in.
If Zimbabwe is ready to embrace the remote gambling sector and reap the economic rewards, the government needs to think carefully about the best ways to regulate it.
Can Zimbabwe learn from the UK’s gambling regulations?
Zimbabwe might benefit from studying a country where the online gambling market is not only well regulated – but thriving as a result. The UK may be over 8,000 kilometres away from Zimbabwe, but it can be used as a shining example of how legalising online gambling can be run both responsibly and profitably.
Any online casino wishing to open its doors to British customers must gain a licence from the UK Gambling Commission. In order to do so, they must subscribe to the government’s rules on age restriction, taxation and responsible gambling. Specifically, gambling operators must be able to:
- Identify and verify customers’ sources of funds, to prevent money laundering
- Maintain and improve technical standards of casino machines and websites to ensure they are secure and reliable
- Advocate responsible gambling to help prevent underage and problem gambling
Zimbabwe has a similar governmental department – the Lottery and Gambling Board – who already regulate the land-based gambling laws. It’s promising that the infrastructure is already set up to process a similar style of licensing, should the government decide to go down that route.
The UK’s gambling laws aren’t just designed to protect the gamblers. Their iron-clad regulations also guarantee that a 15% tax rate is paid on the profits made from any casino, land-based or remote, that operates to a UK clientele.
Last year the remote sector in the UK declared a gross gambling yield of £5.4 billion, most of which was subject to a 15% point-of-consumption tax. Like other taxes, this goes into the coffers to help fund communities and education.
However, until the government in Zimbabwe does the same, they are missing out on a big source of revenue. But the longer the remote sector goes unregulated, the more money is being taken out of the country and only minimal amounts retained.
Another difference in the way tax is taken. In the UK, taxes are paid by the casino operators, allowing the players to keep 100% of their winnings. In Zimbabwe, it is the winnings which are taxed, benefitting the casinos by letting them maximise their profits, and disadvantaging the players.
Reversing this would have no effect on the money available for the government to spend, but would mean a lot to the citizens of Zimbabwe, many of whom already struggle to make ends meet.
What does the future hold for gambling in Zimbabwe?
If current trends continue, and internet usage in Zimbabwe increases further, we can expect more citizens to embrace online gambling. The Zimbabwean government needs to get ahead of these developments and put legislation in place so that everyone, both the players and online casinos, know where they stand.
As for the land-based casinos, there is no evidence from other countries that developing a remote sector has a serious impact on their visitor numbers and profits. Many other African nations successfully cater for both markets, including Kenya, where online gambling was recently legalised.
An estimated 15 million Kenyans participate in some form of online gambling, either casino games or sports betting, and the remote gambling sector is thriving as a result. While it’s unlikely that the entire continent will reach a consensus about gambling – due to differences in religion and culture between the different nations – there is nothing stopping the individual countries from defining their own laws.
Pressure on the government has been increasing, with many sure that they will soon implement new laws that include the online gambling market. Will this have a beneficial impact on the economy of Zimbabwe? Only time will tell.