Home Lifestyle Vodacom’s play to make the mobile operator richer

Vodacom’s play to make the mobile operator richer

5 min read


“Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows…”

These words were immortalised by a radio show-cum-TV programme called “The Original Amateur Hour” that flickered on US small screens during the late forties and fifties. “Round and round she goes.” These words loop my mind as I sit and look at my mobile phone’s screen. Self-loathing builds and my dark passenger mocks: “What is this, amateur hour?”

Because you’re dying to know, let me tell you that “The Original Amateur Hour” was created by Major Unimportant Name during the ‘Jurassic Era’, when the interwebs weren’t around. In those dark and terrible times the biggest inventions of the day were the “lazy bones” TV tuner which had a cord running between it and the goggle box, Mr Potato Head, the non-stick frying pan and a commercial machine called the Universal Automatic Computer (a.k.a. UNIVAC I). Said computer weighed 7,257 kilograms, and was 7,3 by 15,2 metres in size. That’s a hell of a lot bigger and heavier than today’s tablet.

Amateur Hour had a perfectly predictable format. Each show would include the spin of a massive roulette type wheel that would determine the order of the talent’s appearance. Much like Vodacom’s Play Every Day.

To play this casino-inspired game you must install the Vodacom App (easy peasy!), and launch the app. Boom! You get the standard corporate “welcome” and a the message from Satan itself: “PLAY EVERY DAY. Stand a chance to win awesome prizes this Summer with Vodacom. You can win electronics, data bundles, vouchers and more.” Below this a bright red button beckons: “Play now.” Beyond that in boring, obscure black and white: something that reads: “Check Your Balances.”

Do I check my balances? No way. What do I do? Predictably I pull the slot machine’s lever and go to a screen where I can choose which number I want to play from, check my prizes (none yet), see how many available plays I have (1) or (this is where this becomes the devil’s playground) buy more plays. Like any good merchant that deals in addictive substances, Vodacom gives you the first hit free. Yippee.


Hit the “Click To Play” button and you’re taken to a prize screen of nine prize categories, each brightly illustrated by its own icon. What can you win? Grand prizes [icon = island holiday]; data bundles; digital content; mystery prizes [icon = wheel of fortune]; electronics & gaming, minutes and SMS [I’ve hundreds of these already]; lifestyle discounts [insert vomit icon]; Vodacom Millionaire [only an entry to, not the millions per se], and the dreaded ‘Try Again’ [signified by a red loop with an arrow].

Click to play. A light flashes randomly on some of the prizes as I wish the light to: “Go to data” or Go to the Vodacom Millionaires.” On my first try I win zip. Let’s see how much it is to buy a new entry. What? Only R1 — that’s not a lot. Let me try again.

Click to play. Flashing lights go round and round over the prizes. I win 2GB for two days, which is excellent because I’ve just run out of data, and this cost me 50c a gig. Let’s try again. Flashing light. Zilch. Try again. Oh. I won a lifestyle discount. Let’s see what it is. I’ll get R400 off a purchase of R2000 at my nearest Edgars store. Does anyone shop at Edgars anymore? Is my nearest Edgars store even open? Let me try again. Buy another entry. Nothing. Buy another play. I won a Daily Sun SMS update free for one day. Are you kidding me? Is that even worth a rand? Try again. I win 50MB for three days. This means I can stream about one twentieth of a movie. Real generous Vodacom! Give me the big gigs up front and when I start burning cash buying entries throttle the prizes back to a couple of megs for half a second or so.

This is how the game goes. Every day your dealer appears with your first free hit. And, let’s face it, anything free that could win you a million is appealing. But when you don’t win, ‘pulling the lever again’ is all too easy. Ka-ching! The R1.00 surcharge is just added to your bill again. And again. And again. And every day that you open your App you’re taken directly to ‘Play Every Day’.

Who’s the real winner of this promotion? Vodacom of course. That mobile operator which achieved group revenues of R80.1 billion for the year ending March 2016, and that has a market capitalisation of some R221,65 billion. But here I am throwing cash at these fat cats who are essentially ripping consumers off when it comes to data prices, as a research report presented to parliament evidenced in September 2016.

After playing hardcore for over a month, how did I fare? 2GB for two days was my best, and most worthwhile prize. A couple of days ago my mobile data bundle ran out (doesn’t it always?) and I went to the wheel of fortune to win more Gigs. But not a Gig did I win. Or a MB, or even kb. Not a sniff of data. There were discount vouchers for all manner of useless stuff, but not one byte or bit of data.

Playing did cost me though. Damn – I’m dreading this month’s mobile account. My dark passenger keeps telling me that nothing from a mobile service provider is ever really free.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: February 14, 2017


  1. PurplePariah

    February 13, 2017 at 11:44

    Does this come with an age restriction? Gambling is illegal for under 18’s. Online gambling is also illegal.

    And yes, this is in fact gambling. Someone should really report them to the right people.


    • PurplePariah

      February 13, 2017 at 11:54

      Yup. This is 100% in violation of section 11A of the National Gambling Act #7 of 2004.


      • Allykhat

        February 13, 2017 at 12:29

        You totes just replied to yourself.



        • Admiral Chief

          February 13, 2017 at 12:35

          I’m totes replying to you in reply to the reply to the comment


        • PurplePariah

          February 13, 2017 at 12:36

          Definitely not the first time 🙂

          I also continued the research, it’s 100% gambling as defined in section 5(1)(a) of the same act. 😛


          • BakedBagel

            February 13, 2017 at 15:27

            Not only that, Vodacom is not a registered online casino either.
            Also :

            “In September 2011, the South African government made it clear that operators were banned from offering online gambling services to South African residents.”

          • Charles Lee Mathews

            February 13, 2017 at 17:07

            Vodacom has had these kinds of promotions pulled before because they flout the gambling act. But then Vodacom also has a phalanx of lawyers that regularly rush the ICASA and the gambling board screaming: “This is Sparta!” In fact that’s where most the dosh goes. Not to upgrading the network or reducing the cost of data, but to paying the lawyers.

  2. Alien Emperor Trevor

    February 13, 2017 at 11:44

    ……but that’s gambling… and illegal unless you’re a licensed casino?


    • Ottokie

      February 13, 2017 at 11:45

      Even though they know they are only a licensed circus.


    • miaau

      February 14, 2017 at 08:44

      Online gambling, as far as I know ,is illegal in SA and, as such, a fireable offence if you do it on work equipment

      Online betting is ok, lawwise, as far as I know.


  3. Admiral Chief

    February 13, 2017 at 11:54

    • HvR

      February 13, 2017 at 12:39

      • Admiral Chief

        February 13, 2017 at 12:55

        Dat trollface!


      • Charles Lee Mathews

        February 13, 2017 at 17:10

        Meh. That’s not fu…

        no actually that’s quite cute. That and the unicorn.


  4. Raptor Rants

    February 13, 2017 at 11:55

    ah gambling. That which has caused the ruin of many. this won’t make Vodacm as rich as their showmax offering however.

    R49/pm yet Vodacom has no uncapped mobile options. Can you say Out Of Bundle Rates?


    • Admiral Chief

      February 13, 2017 at 11:56

      “out of bund….”
      404. Cash.exe not found


      • Raptor Rants

        February 13, 2017 at 11:58



        • Admiral Chief

          February 13, 2017 at 11:59




          • Raptor Rants

            February 13, 2017 at 12:01

            nah. real haha

          • Admiral Chief

            February 13, 2017 at 12:23


  5. Ir0nseraph

    February 13, 2017 at 12:12

    You can actually get 2 free play’s a day, under the Click to play button you get claim your free prize which gives you an extra spin.I haven’t won anything worthwhile yet and no I won’t pay for extra spins.


  6. miaau

    February 14, 2017 at 08:51

    Why? Why do you play this? I wonder if the winning you did in the beginning was not part of a clever coding, based on new players and what they thought your needs were at the time, i.e. the first 2 prizes you get quickly AND they are what you wanted

    I always push on through to the other side, so to speak


    • Charles Lee Mathews

      February 14, 2017 at 12:37

      Why. Why did I play this. Well I have an addictive perso… nah. Geoffrey Tim made me do it. It blaming it all on him. Now I have to go to counselling, AA and cognitive behavior therapy. The perks of being a writer – they never.

      Yup – and you’re spot on with the coding. If your data bundle is low you don’t win more data [well my bf and I never did]. And we both appeared to win one big bundle in the beginning, and then not again. So it seems to have some interesting algorithms. Which makes one thinks what will happen when Vodacom gets its claws stuck into artificial intelligence.


      • miaau

        February 14, 2017 at 12:44

        Very amused.

        My initial comment got one upvote at time of writing this. From Geoffrey Tim, who you say made you do this. He, Geoffrey, is an interesting character.

        Would love to meet him one day, share a beer. Well, he can drink a beer and I can drink a sprite zero, but there you have it.


        • Charles Lee Mathews

          February 14, 2017 at 12:56

          I have been trying to meet Geoffrey Tim for eons. Of late I have become convinced that he is the artificial intelligence that spawned Roko’s basilisk in order to confuse, and ultimately assimilate, humanity.

          Sprite Zero. You had to go there.



          • miaau

            February 14, 2017 at 13:02

            Well, I cannot have sugar, so no beer. Also, I do not really want to consume alcoholic beverages as a rule, so that too.

            But mostly the sugar problem. Some of my work mates and I sometimes go out for a “:beer” after work, go somewhere and order diet soft drinks.

            AND, from my perspective, drinking sugar free cold drinks for diet reasons cannot be fun. I would just look at other ways of dieting, it it were me. But then again, what do I know? I have a sugar issue, so…..

            But does the odd soft drink with sugar really make that much of a difference? I am not sure, based on watching a few BBC doccies on food, dieting et al.

          • Charles Lee Mathews

            February 14, 2017 at 13:11

            I just be teasing you about the Sprite Zero thing.

            I don’t do sugar either. Am a big fan of water. My own experience of sugar is that one can does make a difference to me – and not in a good way. I too have a sugar issue.

      • miaau

        February 14, 2017 at 12:46

        Very sad.

        “Yup – and you’re spot on with the coding. If your data bundle is low you don’t win more data [well my bf and I never did].”

        Wow, I just thought, let my cynical brain work, what I probably end up doing to make more money through the system, I thought about the wealth of data the cell companies have on us and violin. BUT, it was also partly in jest, of course, because this type of behaviour from large companies is just not cricket.


        • Charles Lee Mathews

          February 14, 2017 at 12:53

          Don’t forget that Vodacom and MTN have been hauled before parliament, Telkom which spawned Vodacom was a legislated monopoly despite this being bad for SA’s development, employment, innovation, economic growth. The lawyers at those companies run rings around ICASA et al. Vodacom operates from Mordor.


  7. Magoo

    February 14, 2017 at 08:55

    You get two free plays per day when using the app. If you go to *111# then you only get 1 play. I’ve never bought an entry and I’ve won a few hundred megs of data, so I think you are partially to blame for taking the bait/temptation. 😛

    If you want to buy bundles of data look for “Just 4 You” deals. It’s much more reasonably priced and scales with how much data you use. I get 2gb/7days for R99 every 7 days or so.


    • Charles Lee Mathews

      February 14, 2017 at 12:41

      You think I am to blame for taking the bait/temptation. Who are you? My therapist?

      Seriously – it was an interesting exercise in trying to reverse engineer the Vodacom software behind the promotion. So from that perspective tots worth it. It engineers a little high very much the same way that gambling does so creates a behavioral type loop where it is ‘easy’ to go back again and again. And there is no running total so it is easy not to notice how much money you’re ‘investing’ in the promotion.

      Rather insidious. If not evil.


      • Magoo

        February 14, 2017 at 13:30

        Well yes I do think you’re partially* to blame! Everything wants your money, everywhere you go.

        Would you like an extra sauce or extra cheese with that? Would you like to buy matching curtains? Would you like to subscribe to this as well as that for R little-over-nothing? Why don’t you buy TWO of this thing that you only need one of so that you can get three?

        Your behavioural loop dilemma is not your finding, they know what they are doing! It’s a trap!


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