Madagascar is a relatively underdeveloped betting market across the gaming landscape, with only three casinos across the whole island nation, and no national lottery. Sports betting is legal in common with many African countries, but a historically high poverty rate in the country had limited the spread of traditional ‘high street’ bookmakers offering the kind of developed services common in Western countries. In the past, by far the majority of betting took place unofficially through local touts in the national sports of football, wrestling, cock fighting and horse racing, introduced by the former French administration. But modern technology is starting to change the betting landscape of Madagascar forever, by opening up a range of new sports, and marrying sports betting up with the wider world of online casino gaming.
Another factor in the changing face of Malagasy betting is the growing wealth of the country, which has emerged from a period of political turmoil to grow its tourism and raw materials economy. As the island nation becomes more prosperous, it will become an increasing market for sports betting due to the increasing disposable income of its inhabitants. This expansion is likely to come in non-traditional Malagasy sports, like NFL, cricket, basketball and hockey, due to the dominance of foreign betting corporations in the Malagasy betting market.
The expanding penetration of internet access into more rural parts of Madagascar, particularly on mobile devices, is opening up the Madagascan market to a combination of foreign sports and internet gaming – which isn’t itself regulated in Madagascar. Due to French colonial links with Madagascar, which gained its independence from France in 1960, the French gaming market has great influence on the Malagasy gaming landscape. The French gaming conglomerate PMU has held a monopoly over bets on horse racing since 1996, and so their presence in the sports betting market is ubiquitous across the island as PMU Madagascar, with the company offering odds on both local and French races. Offering live betting on Malagasy sporting events and video coverage of French sporting events via satellite TV, this form of sports betting is still the dominant model for physical shops in the country and Malagasy betting habits were shaped largely by the corporate habits of PMU Madagascar as a result.
Traditional physical betting shops are more common in large towns and cities, where the spread of technology has enabled computerised betting to become normal. Challenger companies to PMU Madagascar such as PMU Bet are distinguishing themselves in the marketplace through the range and quality of the facilities they offer, attempting to outdo each other in metrics like network coverage, range of sports and bets offered, speed of payout and responsiveness of betting software. The ability to share a pool with other French members of the PMU conglomerate, and thus offer bigger prize pots, has marked PMU Bet out in recent years – offering as much as USD$10m in prizes per day. In addition to this, the ability to use mobile scanners to verify tickets for a faster payout is giving PMU Bet an edge over its rivals.
While this model of sports betting is rather limiting when it comes to opportunities for expansion in the country, with gaming being a very small sector in Madagascar itself, competition from online alternatives are now bypassing the betting shop altogether. Madagascar does not regulate the online gaming industry, and so does not issue licenses for local online gaming companies to set up, so there are huge opportunities for foreign gaming companies to penetrate the Malagasy market. The vast expansion over the last 20 years of the variety and quantity of sports available via the internet has introduced betting in previously unknown sports to the Malagasy market, including cricket and basketball.
The PMU Madagascar monopoly on horse racing betting, and its dominance in other sports, is being challenged by foreign companies offering online only services, causing a turf war between the gaming companies that has seen everything from the types of bet available to the size of the prizes increase. This is being driven by mobile penetration, which has been steadily expanding in Madagascar, and is easily the most popular way to access the internet: 51% of the population have an internet capable phone, against only 5.1% with a fixed internet connection on a laptop or desktop. Through tie-ups with local network operators such as Orange Money, companies like PMU BET have been rolling out new mobile betting services such as the ability to place bets using mobile credit and betting via text.
Due to a lack of dominant home grown online betting companies in Madagascar, the betting landscape is extremely fragmented, with a patchwork of 36 foreign betting companies making up the majority of the offering. These companies will be very familiar to customers in Europe, with big European conglomerates highly represented, including Bet365, Coral, Ladbrokes, BWin, and BetVictor. This expansion into the Malagasy market is hand in hand with the expansion of traditional online casino games such as Poker, Roulette, Blackjack and Slots – which are filling the gap in the casino market in the country via European names such as Bet365 Casino.
The expansion of the Malagasy economy and the increasing penetration of internet enabled mobile devices into the island’s society is likely to lead to the continued expansion of the gaming industry in the country – both online and off. Without any pending legislation to change the status of online betting in Madagascar, it is unlikely that a domestic market will develop in the near future, meaning the only option for online betting in Madagascar will be via offshore companies based in Europe, the US, Asia and mainland Africa. This is likely to further squeeze Malagasy ‘high street’ bookmakers as it has in many other markets, who are unable to offer the variety of sports and types of bet that online bookies can manage, as well as the size of the prize pots they can offer.