After Mugabe’s departure – what future for Zimbabwe’s gambling market?

  • Zimbabwe is experiencing a sharp rise in gambling activity
  • The inauguration of a new president raises hopes of a better economy and new gambling legislation

As Zimbabwe sheds off the hard-line presidency of Robert Mugabe that lasted 37 years, there’s a sense of optimism in a country that has had one leader since its independence in 1980.

Zimbabwe's gambling industry could be ready for a surge, if new president Emmerson Mnangagwa can lay solid foundations in terms of regulation and responsible gambling policy.
Zimbabwe’s gambling industry could be ready for a surge, if new president Emmerson Mnangagwa can lay solid foundations in terms of regulation and responsible gambling policy.

The newly installed president Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised sweeping economic reforms that will restore the country’s economy from the ground up. This is expected to take many years, but progressive economic policies are sure to attract more investment.

One of the favored pastimes in this southern African nation is gambling and it is regulated under the Lotteries and Gambling Act by the Zimbabwe Lotteries and Gambling Board.

Zimbabwe is currently has one of the highest concentrations of brick-and-mortar casinos on the continent which is rather ironic for a country that has suffered severe economic sanctions for a while now.

Despite the relatively low internet penetration in the country, online gambling is on the rise and many bettors rely on foreign-based online casinos and bookmakers to place wagers.

Sports betting is currently one of the most lucrative gambling activities, with numerous service providers setting up shop in the country. There is also a successful state lottery that is operated by an agency know as Zimbabwe State Lotteries.

Market regulation

Although country’s authorities have tried to standardize the gambling sector, the laws are not as effective as they ought to be especially for the emerging online sector. Most of the enacted laws apply to land-based casino gambling and lotteries and whereas less legislative attention has been placed on online gambling activity.

As things stand, online betting is not expressly legal, neither is it considered illegal and a grey market situation helps neither the player for the government treasury. Attempts are still being made to speed up new legislation and the efforts may pay off with the new government in place.

Age requirements

The minimum age for legal gambling in Zimbabwe is 18 years. This, however, mostly applies to land-based casinos where players may be required to produce identification for proof of age. The same may not necessarily apply to online betting since the regulations aren’t stringent enough to keep underage players from subverting the law.

Tax on winnings

All winnings from gambling activities are taxable in Zimbabwe. The profits that are derived from all forms of pool betting and horse racing are subject to a withholding tax of 10%. For casinos, the withholding tax is set at 15%.

Currency and mode of payment

The official currency in Zimbabwe is the Zimbabwe Dollar (ZWD) but ever since the currency was demonetized back in 2009, citizens have had to use foreign currencies.

Some of the currencies accepted as legal tender include The US dollar, South African Rand, British Pound, Botswana Pula and Euros.

Online players have various options for transactions including Mastercard, Visa, Maestro as well as access to popular eWallets like Neteller, Skrill and EntroPay. Many sites also allow bank transfers which may include a number of prepaid options.

Potential harm?

Sports betting is growing rapidly in Zimbabwe and more people are placing wagers than ever before. Many local and international companies have started operations in the country and market acceptance is on the rise. Despite the betting industry providing lots of direct and indirect income for Zimbabwe citizens, the authorities have noticed a sharp increase in the cases of over indulgence by a section of bettors.

The economic woes have led many people to seek solace in betting as means to quick wealth rather than a fun pastime.

As a way of stemming this problem, the government halted the issuance of betting licenses to new companies in 2015. The former deputy minister of home affairs Ziyambi Ziyambi noted that the proliferation of lotteries and sports betting firms requires proper regulation, more so, in a country with soaring unemployment rates. “We need to control betting, because we can’t be betting everywhere. There are now too many operators”, Ziyambi stated in an interview with South Africa’s Sunday Times.

The future

The dawn of a new political establishment in 2017 has raised the hopes of a new legislative agenda. Stakeholders in the gambling sector are expected to step up lobbying campaigns that could lead to enactment of new regulations that will streamline activities and reduce the chances of potential harm to players.

The opening up of the economy, with more investment, coupled with clearer laws, could push the Zimbabwean gambling industry forward.

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