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Sports betting in Ghana, an industry whose time has come


Kweku Ainuson Senior

8 months ago
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Today, there are 31 licensed sports betting operators in Ghana. In just a few years, the number has increased from only 12 licensed companies to 31. One would agree that adverts promoting the business of one operator or the other have become commonplace -  billboards and paraphernalia are everywhere.

Indeed, the time of the gaming industry has come, and the government has taken a keen interest in the industry. Sports betting together with the casino business are the major players in Ghana’s gaming industry, though sports betting is much more popular and accessible to many Ghanaians.

Between 2019 and 2022, the government collected GHS450m in taxes from the gaming industry. There is still a lot more to be collected. The sports betting sub-industry has become so popular that there was a massive player revolt when the government implemented a 10% withholding tax on winnings in August 2023. Although massive advertisement has increased the popularity of the sub-industry, the sub-industry’s massive popularity can be attributed to growing interest in the many football leagues, especially in Europe. The sub-industry’s business therefore peaks during the various European soccer leagues, especially the English Premiere League and the European Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League.

Sports betting is now big business, beyond core football lovers. Today, all over the world, there are economies both at the national level and the sub-national levels where the gaming industry has become a significant contributor to public sector revenue. The usual examples are Las Vegas and New Jersey in the United States of America and Macau in China. Malta, Singapore and Aruba have also become very popular gaming destinations for gamblers. In all these cities and countries, the government has left no stone unturned to make them casinos and betting hubs for players in the country and abroad.

One cannot blame these economies that have leveraged the gaming industry to boost revenue. In addition to the direct revenue from the industry, there are also linkages to the wider economy that bode well for economic development. According to the American Gaming Association, the gambling market in the United States of America contributes almost USD261 billion to the economy annually and supports 1.8 million jobs across the country. The industry has therefore become an important sector for purposes of economic diversification. Right here on the continent of Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria now boast of large-fledging gaming industries in their respective countries. In these African countries, apart from the direct revenue from the industry, they have also seen a significant boost in advertising spend and financial inclusion by reason of the use of mobile money applications. 

Ghana has not been left alone in the benefits that accrue from the gaming industry. In fact, it has become an important source of revenue for the government of Ghana. As the country finds itself in dire economic straits, the gaming industry has become one of the industries that the government has targeted to increase its revenue. In April 2023, the Parliament of Ghana passed the Income Tax (Amendment) Act, 2023 (Act 1094). Among other things, Act 1094 introduced a gaming revenue tax of 20%. It also introduced a 10% tax on winnings from the gaming industry. According to sources within the Ghana Revenue Authority, the government of Ghana is hoping to raise GHS 1billion annually in direct taxes from the gaming industry. The Ghana Sports Betting Association (GHASBO) has claimed that the advertising spend within Ghana from the gaming industry is conservatively estimated at GHS 200 million annually. Indeed, the telecommunication companies in Ghana are also making millions of cedis as processor charges from the industry. In 2019, the gaming industry accounted for the single largest mobile money sign-ups in the country thereby supporting the government’s financial inclusion and digitalization agenda. 

In the area of corporate social responsibility, sports betting operators have provided a platform for many people in the sports industry to receive training and rediscover themselves. In this direction, sports betting operators have provided training to assist some retired footballers and sports personnel in exploring business opportunities after their active sporting careers. These initiatives also help to discover new talents in the sports industry in Ghana. Sports betting operators have provided headline sponsorship for at least eight (8) Ghana Premiere League teams within the last five (5) years. The contribution of sports betting to the Ghana economy has been far-reaching. According to GHASBO, one sports betting operator is in its second year of sponsoring the entire Ghana Premiere League. 

Despite the above, the gaming industry worldwide has historically been associated with dodgy people, fraudsters and to put it bluntly, criminals. As the world continues to be a dangerous place, any industry that is used as a conduit for criminal activities will obviously incur the wrath of authorities. In many countries around the world, such as the United States, China and India, governments in the past tried to ban the industry entirely or severely restrict its existence. 

However, the more they tried to ban it, the more the industry found ingenious and clever ways to survive. Today, with the advent of technology, it is almost impossible to impose a total ban on betting anywhere in the world. 

Governments quickly realized the futility of trying to suppress the industry and changed their attitudes. The attitude became one of sanitizing the industry of crime to generate the most revenue possible from a well-regulated gaming industry.  This change of perception mediated policy changes which later framed better regulations to govern the gaming industry. 

Better regulations allowed governments to see the sheer volume of transactions and money that passes through the value chain. Smart government officials then began to explore how they could leverage the industry to raise money and deepen linkages to other parts of the economy. Today, around the world, the gaming industry has become one of the sources to diversify economic development. There is therefore a gaming industry almost everywhere on the planet. 

Malta, with a population of 516,000 received revenue of almost USD 1 billion in 2020 from its gaming industry. The gaming industry contributes about 8% of the economy of Malta. Online gaming is a significantly important part of Malta’s economy. Around 50% of the country’s international bandwidth is dedicated to online gambling activities. Cities such as Cairo in Egypt, Sydney in Australia, Manila in the Philippines, Lima in Peru and San Jose in Costa Rica have become popular tourist destinations partly because of their gaming culture. They have each relied heavily on the gaming industry for their economic development. 

On the continent of Africa, the revenue from the online gambling market alone is projected to reach USD1.6 billion in 2023 and will grow at an average rate of 9% yearly.  Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa have, in the recent past, seen significant growth in their gaming industry. Ivory Coast, Senegal and the Republic of Benin are currently developing their gaming industry as well. 

Persons and groups which advocate for a total ban or the placement of severe restrictions on the gaming industry will have to reconsider their position. One can appreciate their concerns though. In addition to the potential criminal activities in the gaming industry, there is also the moral question. A significant number of our compatriots consider gambling as immoral. While that may be true, we cannot legislate morality. Any society that has tried to legislate morality has failed or turned into a highly dysfunctional society. In any case, whose moral code would be the standard and where would the line be drawn?  Modern constitutional protections and civil liberties make it almost impossible to legislate morality. 

In the face of the economic benefits of the gaming industry, it is important that Ghana adopts a prudent and pragmatic approach to deal with the gaming industry. In a highly competitive world if Ghana wants to realize the dream of “Ghana Beyond Aid”, it must leverage all legitimate means to raise revenue and deepen economic diversification. The call for a total ban or the placement of severe restrictions on the gaming industry can be likened to what Ghana has essentially done to Palm Wine, Akpeteshie, Pito and other locally brewed alcoholic drinks. Historically, the fixation has been on the negatives, particularly those who have abused these alcoholic drinks to vilify local drinks. 

Detractors in other countries have helped drive the narrative that the consumption of these local drinks will send one to an early grave. Today, the Palm Wine taper, the Akpeteshie brewer and the Pito brewer are some of the most vilified and to use Franz Fanon term, "the Wretched of the Earth". However, Palm Wine, Akpeteshie and Pito are the Moet, the Johnnie Walkers, the Hennesseys, etc of other countries. A cursory research into the beginnings of these foreign alcoholic drinks which have become the toast of many middle class and upper class Ghanaians will reveal that they all started just like our Palm Wine, Akpeteshie and Pito. Those countries embraced what they had and then helped to develop them into the multibillion-dollar international wine, whisky and brandy industries they are today. 

The gaming industry has changed significantly in its scope and coverage. The industry has leverage on technology to move online. The critical question to ask is, what can the authorities do to better regulate the industry? What can the authorities do to minimize if not eliminate the ills of the industry and promote the positives. The Gaming Act, 2016 (Act 721) has provided the basic principles to regulate the gaming industry. The Gary Nimako Marfo and Peter Mireku led Gaming Commission in Ghana has done tremendous work to build on the previous administration to strengthen the regulatory regime. Under the leadership of the Board Chairman, Gary Nimako Marfo, the Gaming Commission has managed to collaborate with the operators and other stakeholders to strengthen the regulatory regime. 

Gary Nimako Marfo has managed to team up with the gaming operators, Ghana Revenue Authority, the Financial Intelligence Center of the Bank of Ghana and other stakeholders to strengthen the regulatory regime. The Gaming Commission has impressed on these entities to see themselves as stakeholders and collaborators as opposed to enemies and competitors. In July 2023, the Gaming Commission in collaboration with the Ghana Association of Sports Betting Operators organized a Gaming Regulatory Conference for stakeholders to deliberate on the best practices to regulating the gaming industry in Ghana. The conference had in attendance, officials from the Gaming Commission, gaming operators, Ghana Revenue Authority, Financial Intelligence Center, Ghana Police, District Assemblies, Journalists and a host of other stakeholders. Despite the modest successes chalked by the Gaming Commission, there is still a lot of work to be done. 

About 20% of the transactions on the betting platforms of the sports betting operators are still done in cash. Although cash is light and simple, it makes for anonymous transactions. In spite of constitutional protections for privacy and confidentiality, anonymity is the one thing regulators must prevent in the gaming industry. It is an undeniable fact there is a high propensity for unlawful activity in the betting industry. Indeed, if players are only betting for fun and nothing more, then they should not have any concern when they leave an audit trail. After all, the right to privacy and confidentiality is not absolute. It is tempered by the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to keep everyone safe in an ever changing world. The spirit and the letter of the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) provisions under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2020 (Act 1044) envisage that every player/punter must be positively identified. Moving to a cashless ecosystem is therefore the surest way to inch closer to a non-anonymous industry. This will also aid in giving true meaning to the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act when it comes to its application to the gaming industry. 

There is still a significant concern with the thorny issue of underage gambling. Ten years ago, the sports betting sub-industry was largely retail in nature with many sports betting shops dotted across cities. Underage gambling could therefore be easily identified when children hanged around and entered betting shops. Operators responded to the complains of underage gambling by hiring bouncers to do age verification before allowing entry into sports betting shops. Today, the dynamics of underage gambling has completely changed. About 80% of the industry is now online. Thus, there is no need to go to any shop to place a bet. One may think that the issue of underage gambling has significantly reduced with the advent of online gambling. 

After all, the sports betting operators must verify their customers before they can create a betting account on their website. In addition, a player will need to have a mobile money account before they can place a bet online. Current rules do not permit anyone under the age of 18 years from registering to own a mobile money account. However, evidence has shown that there is still underage gambling. Some operators have not fully implemented the strict KYC procedures under the Anti-Money Laundering Act. 

In addition, it has been found out that in many peri-urban communities, illiterate and semi-illiterate mothers especially, give their mobile telephones to their children to operate their mobile money accounts on their behalf. Unknown to these mothers, their children use their mothers’ mobile telephones and mobile money accounts to place bets online. At present, there is no research to ascertain the extend of underage gambling on the various online platforms. However, even one child placing a bet online is one too many. The Gaming Commission must work closely with GHASBO and other stakeholders to properly identify the problem so that they can begin to tackle it from the root.

There is also the issue of gaming addiction. Some people now view sports betting as a business and therefore gamble irresponsibly. Sports betting is just for the love of the game of sports. It is meant to be an entertainment for players and not a business. Research has found out that some operators in Ghana have invested in highly sophisticated computer analytics software to identify irresponsible gaming on its platforms. The authorities must continue to work together with the various stakeholders to drive player education among other interventions to deal with the situation. 

On the whole, one can say that the gaming industry has a potential to aid government revenue mobilization and also deepen economic growth. It is an industry whose time has come and the country should also take its share of the industry’s benefits. Research has shown that Ghanaians are already patronizing international sports betting sites, what GHASBO refers to as black sites. These are international sports betting markets which are unregulated in Ghana. It is better that we develop our industry to ensure that we minimize the capital flight that is associated with betting on international unregulated black sites and rather encourage those who are interested in betting online to patronize the regulated sports betting markets in Ghana. 

This article is curled from a broader research that the author is conducting on the gaming industry in Ghana.  

source: Kweku Ainuson Senior - Lecturer, University of Ghana School of Law