Register to comment and receive news in your inboxRegister or Log in

Why South African bettors are finding fun in niche sports

In the changing realm of sports gambling African fans are now exploring niche sports discovering a mix of thrill and potential. 

Traditional sports such as soccer and rugby continue to remain popular with sports fans, yet an increasing number of bettors are uncovering the appeal and possible winnings associated with less mainstream sporting activities. Whether it’s the excitement of martial arts or the tactical aspect of chess, the betting scene in South Africa is progressing to accommodate a wide range of tastes and inclinations.

An anxious atmosphere took over South Africa before the national team won its last three games at the 2023 Rugby World Cup by a single point. When Bafana Bafana scored two goals to knock world cup semi-finalists Morocco out of the African Cup of Nations, they defied all expectations. These unbelievable moments have kept football and rugby wildly popular with South African bettors.

But when the soccer or rugby season is over, bettors have been able to find new thrills in sports that you might not typically associate with betting. 

Brenton Chelin, Head of Brand at Sportingbet, says: “Football is by far the most popular sport to bet on for South Africans; however we see new sports entrants emerging as the market matures. We see the typical football bettor bets smaller amounts, around R70 per bet.”

According to Chelin, Sportingbet saw a huge growth in the popularity of rugby betting in 2023.  “We call it the Springbok effect! There was sizable growth in the average bet size during 2023, a sign that South Africans had no doubts about the prospects of the Springboks,” says Chelin. The Rugby World Cup saw South African punters get the better of bookies across the board, as the Boks not only lifted the trophy, but also padded the fans’ pockets with winnings.

A test match against Ireland in July and two home games against New Zealand in August and September, are sure to remind punters of the biggest rugby lesson of 2023: never count the Boks out, even when the odds are against them.

Chelin reveals the classic sports that South Africans are betting on, as well as some of the lesser known sports that are rapidly making their mark in the country.

Top sports South Africans are betting on

  • Basketball

The Basketball Africa League has local bettors paying more attention to the sport. Basketball is popular with South African punters and is appealing to bettors who have the appetite to risk more per bet. According to Chelin, the typical basketball punter will bet R350 per bet.”  

The Africa League has 12 teams competing for a continental title. “If you’re already a fan of the American NBA, you now have local competition to keep an eye on,” adds Chelin. 

  • Tennis

SA bettors have always loved grand slams like the French Open and odds from Sportingbet reveals the competition, which starts in late May, will be a close race between 2023 winner Novak Djokovic and Wimbledon winning Carlos Alcaraz. 

In the women’s game 22 year old Iga Świątek is a favourite ahead of Aryna Sabalenka to win Roland Garros.

The popularity of tennis is significant and is growing at a steady rate of about 20% per year, according to Chelin. During Grand Slams, it’s often the second most popular sport to bet on.

  • Cricket, golf and volleyball

Cricket will always hold an important space in South Africa’s hearts, but with the Indian Premier League now concluded, broader betting appeal is expected to rise when the T20 World Cup starts in June.

While golf maintains its dedicated following, South Africans are showing more interest in volleyball games as the Summer Olympic Games approach.The 88th US Masters promises to bring some high stakes golf betting action to the world, and it’s up to the keen eyed punter to decipher the odds and make the bet that’ll have them winning big by the end of the tournament. “Sportingbet has arguably the best golf betting product in the market in South Africa, leading to the platform being a firm favourite amongst golf punters,” said Chelin. 

  • Table tennis, combat sports and horse racing

These codes round out the top 10 favourites for South African betters. As usual horse racing will come into focus for punters when big events like the Durban July get going.

The World Table Tennis Championships were hosted in Durban last year and the tournament had a global audience of 1 billion viewers. And while Chinese players dominate the sport, fierce competition across a variety of local and international tournaments means fans have a lot to look forward to.

Since Dricus Du Plessis became the first South African UFC middleweight champion, local fans have not looked back on the sport. The world of competitive combat sports is wide-ranging, from boxing to judo and increasingly popular mixed martial arts.

  • Darts

The exciting and unpredictable world of darts, has just seen 16-year-old fan favourite, Luke Littler being knocked out of the Baltic Sea Darts Open in the first round of the tournament by the world’s 97th seed. According to Chelin, there has been rapid growth in the popularity of darts, especially in 2023. “This sport has grown by 75% since 2022 and is popular amongst people who are willing and able to risk larger amounts, around R700 per bet.” 

Up and comers to keep in mind

Interest in American football and hockey have also risen. American football’s draw is undeniable as seen by the betting figures produced after the 2024 Super Bowl, which brought in billions of dollars.

New local offerings like the Mandela African Boxing Cup, which includes bouts with local celebrities, is another growth area worth watching.

These niche sports are thrilling South Africans because they offer unpredictable entertainment, the novelty of a different form of competitiveness, and a chance to score winnings.