Gambling in South Africa is big business, with the industry worth approximately R35 billion annually. Over 10% of the entire population engages in some form of gambling on a regular basis. Experts predict these figures will only increase going forward, with annual growth rates projected to sit around 10%.
The online casino industry, in particular, has seen significant levels of record-breaking growth in recent years, with revenues projected to surpass traditional land-based options in the near future. In South Africa, gamblers are increasingly using their smartphones to place bets, especially using apps.
The trend is clear: users are increasingly moving away from browser-based web use compared to apps. In 2021, approximately 90% of users preferred apps over using Chrome or Safari on their smartphone devices. This trend is only expected to continue in the coming years, with browsers used as a simple information gateway, rather than anything interactive.
This preference translates to how consumers access their favourite casinos. Apps are increasingly becoming the option of choice when placing a bet; mobile apps are even carving away the market share of desktop usage.
It’s clear that casino apps have seen a meteoric rise in downloads and usage stats. But what are the reasons behind these impressive growth figures? It’s not a clear-cut situation, with several factors combining to spearhead app downloads:
The casino industry has taken notice of mobile opportunities, with a range of companies investing to improve the smartphone app experience. In addition to browser-based upgrades, casinos are releasing custom-built apps to stand out from their competitors.
Apps are now no longer an add-on or a bonus option, but instead, casinos are shifting to make them the flagship choice for gamblers. According to a representative at Casino Mobile, experts in the iGaming industry, consumers should expect to see the best gaming experience with online casino apps compared to their browser-based equivalents.
Apps will only continue growing in popularity in South Africa due to rising rates of smartphone ownership. African consumers were previously priced out of the smartphone market, particularly in the first few years following the first model releases.
In the last few years, however, companies began to release affordable alternatives for low-income users. It is now possible for a large percentage of the South African market to purchase a smartphone without breaking the bank.
At present, smartphone penetration sits at just over 60%. In 2026, it’s expected to reach 67% plus. This will only mean additional app downloads going forward.
In tune with the increase in affordable smartphones, 5G connections have not only become more common, but they also are far cheaper than in the past. While internet cafes are still popular, with players gathering to play video games and gamble online, smartphones are now a viable alternative.
Today, a large percentage of African consumers have access to a mobile internet connection. Not only that, connections are often high-speed, with 5G becoming increasingly ubiquitous in South Africa. For most users, this has been a game-changer.
The government is also making strides in this regard, including the promise to provide free data to South African households. These initiatives will only serve to improve access and internet usage throughout the country, further driving app market growth.
Casinos have always been at the forefront of technological developments, but companies were still somewhat limited by low mobile internet speeds. It made lightweight, quick-loading games a priority.
While this route meant that games were playable on cell phones with low-speed connections, it also translated to a gaming experience that did not match the desktop experience.
Today, however, online casinos can offer games that have impressive graphics, detailed gameplay, and live video, translating into an enhanced experience. Users now also have the hard drive space to add a wide range of apps to their smartphones, meaning there’s always a space for an online casino.
While the number of players now using mobile casinos and their corresponding apps is now at record-breaking levels, this is only the start of the market cycle. Players are increasingly moving away from land-based casinos, and they are no longer limited by cost-prohibitive smartphones or expensive (and slow) mobile internet connections.
But these are just recent developments. The industry is still in its infancy, and it was only just a few short years ago when online casino games were essentially unplayable, even on the latest desktop configuration.
In the next decade, expect apps to become the go-to option for most consumers in the casino industry. Just as for anything else we now use apps for, whether it’s banking, social media, exercise and diet, players who gamble will increasingly opt for an app-based experience.