Gambling in Rwanda and the Tourism Boom

Since the legalization of gambling in 2011, Rwanda has attracted more visitors, but how are gambling regulations related to growth in the tourism sector?

Rwanda has fought hard to shed long-standing negative associations with its tragic Civil War, which took place between 1990 and 1994 – today, Rwanda is considered the safest country in Africa and the 9th safest country in the whole world. As you might expect from such a safe and culturally vibrant country, Rwanda is a magnet for tourists visiting Africa, who flock to see the diverse wildlife and stunning natural beauty on offer. But whilst many visitors to The Land of a Thousand Hills may revel in visiting the many nature trails, forests, national parks and museums on offer, you may be surprised to learn that the country’s gambling sector is a major draw for tourists from Europe and further afield.

Gambling Regulation in Rwanda

Both land-based gambling and online gambling have been legal in Rwanda since 2011, including casinos and sportsbooks. At present, operator’s licenses are issued by The Gaming Board as part of The Ministry of Trade and Industry of Rwanda – in order to obtain a license, operators must meet a set of regulatory requirements which includes a clean criminal record, adequate capital and having never previously had a national gambling license denied, revoked or suspended. The tax rates associated with gambling are relatively low (at 13% for gross gaming revenue and 15% for players’ winnings) while licenses may be issued for an array of gambling purposes including casinos, gaming machines, internet gaming, and sportsbook betting sites. Whereas Rwandan residents and operators still face multiple rules and regulations related to their own gambling, non-native visitors (such as non-citizens, ex-pats, holidaymakers, and migrants) have considerably more freedom when it comes to placing bets in the country.

Rwandan Tourism and Gambling

Despite the recent challenges posed by the pandemic, Rwanda maintains a reputation as a desirable high-value low volume eco-tourism destination, along with other African tourist hotspots such as Namibia, Kenya, and South Africa. The Rwandan tourism industry has undergone rapid growth in recent years, generating a staggering revenue of $305m in 2014 alone – as the main source of foreign exchange earnings in the country, the tourist sector has been a leading contributor toward Rwanda’s national export strategy. With a wide range of foreign investors and international hotel chains looking to capitalize on the growing market, the country is now home to a fine selection of land-based gaming venues and has access to some of the best international online casino sites, including those featured in the list of the best online casinos. With increasing numbers of visitors year after year since the legalization of gambling in 2011, it seems as though the country’s relatively relaxed attitude has been a leading factor in the growth of the national tourism sector.

The ’Visit Rwanda’ Campaign and Sports Betting

In recent years, the Rwandan government has made great strides in terms of promoting its tourism industry to the wider world via the much-publicized ‘Visit Rwanda’ campaign. This includes a 2019 three-year sports partnership with leading French football club Paris St. Germain, as well as a a controversial £30m sponsorship deal with Arsenal FC in 2018, where the VR logo has been emblazoned onto the team’s kit. It’s telling that sport (and especially football) has played such an important role in the promotion of tourism in the country, as sportsbook betting serves a crucial role in the national gambling industry since being legalized in 2011. It’s also noteworthy that Rwanda has invested in France and the UK as countries ripe for travel to the region, as both countries have a shared affinity with sports betting and the ‘beautiful game’.

Can Gambling Solve the 2020 Tourism Collapse?

In Rwanda, the tourist sector has been hit the hardest by the effects of the pandemic, as lockdowns and canceled international flights have led to a void previously filled by roving tourists. Due to the tourist industry ‘collapsing’ in 2020, it seems likely that Rwanda will have to make further efforts to entice visitors in the aftermath of the pandemic – this will likely include further marketing (and even further relaxation) of the country’s famously tourist-friendly gambling laws.