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Gambling in South Africa


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Map of AfricaAfrica is the world's second largest continent, housing over one billion people, many of whom are under the age of 40 and living in poverty. Gambling is a popular activity on the continent, both legally and illicitly. Legal casinos operate in numerous African countries, including Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia in North Africa; Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria in West Africa; Zaire, Gabon, and Rwanda in Central Africa; Kenya, Nairobi, and Tanzania in East Africa; and numerous provinces in the territory of South Africa.

South Africa has nine provinces with a population of approximately 50 million people. Prior to 1994, gambling was, for the most part, illegal in the country. The last 50 years, however, have seen a slow progression toward the legalization of South African gambling.

1965: All Forms of Gaming Forbidden Except Horse Race Betting

The South Africa Gambling Act of 1965 prohibited all forms of gambling in the country except horse race betting. Because horse racing was viewed more as a sporting event than a gambling event, wagering money on the races was deemed acceptable at this time.

Late 1970s: Casinos Pop Up in the Bantustans

As part of apartheid, the Bantustans were segregated areas set aside for black natives. These areas operated independently of the rest of the country. As such, gambling that was otherwise illegal in South Africa became popular in the Bantustans.

1996: Gaming Legalized via the National Gambling Act

Logo of the 1994 African National CongressIn 1994, the African National Congress won its first election and South Africa achieved democracy for the first time. As a result, gambling was accepted by the government and legalized throughout the country by 1996. Officials based this decision on the fact that South Africans were playing the games anyway, albeit illegally. They felt that bringing the activity out into the open would make it less hazardous for citizens.

2001-2009: Gambling Grows Significantly Throughout South Africa

The 2000s saw significant growth in the popularity of casinos in South Africa. Between 2001-2009, gaming revenue doubled. In 2009, proceeds contributed R1.5 billion to provincial governments.

2005: Electronic Bingo Terminals (EBTs) Introduced

Prior to 2005, bingo was not a big moneymaker for South Africa, but when EBTs were introduced that year, everything changed. Bingo halls cropped up in shopping areas across the country, making bingo one of the more popular games of choice in the area.

2009: Lottery Tops Casino as the Country's Most Popular Gambling Activity

A 3-month study in 2009 found lottery to be the most popular South African game, with approximately 30 percent of those surveyed admitting they'd wagered money on it. Six percent admitted to visiting casinos, while games like Fafi and dice accounted for an even smaller percentage of gambling activity in 2009.

The South African Responsible Gaming Foundation: Keeping it Safe

SARGFThe South African Responsible Gaming Foundation, or SARGF, attempts to minimize personal harm and maximize citizens' awareness of gambling dangers. Their primary goals include the research, treatment, and prevention of problem gambling, with the hope that the information they provide will inform public policy makers with the necessary information to keep citizens safe.

Interactive Gaming in South Africa: Evolving Restrictions

The act of gambling via the Internet is termed "interactive gaming" by South Africa's National Gambling Act. Any organization providing legal online gaming services is an "interactive gaming provider." Currently, the restrictions on interactive gaming in South Africa are quite severe. The laws can be confusing as they have changed a lot over the past decade:

  • 2004: The National Gambling Act of 2004 prohibited online wagering in all forms except horse race betting through a licensed bookmaker.
  • 2008: The National Gambling Amendment Act of 2008 decreed that all types of interactive gaming in the country are legal. This act, however, has yet to be legalized.
  • 2010: The Gauteng Gambling Board ruled that interactive gambling is illegal on all fronts, setting the 2008 amendment back several steps.

The Gambling Board ruled that interactive gaming providers and players are in danger of prosecution with fines and jail time if found guilty. This judgment was made in response to a lawsuit made by Swaziland-based interactive casino Piggs Peak, which had been offering online gaming opportunities to South Africans remotely.

  • 2011: According to the South African Department of Trade, any type of interactive gaming activity could be up for prosecution "until the National Gambling Amendment Act of 2008 comes into effect."
  • 2013: According to the South African National Gambling Board website, online wagering is permitted via licensed bookmakers in South Africa. Citizens are not permitted to gamble with international companies while they are physically within the borders of their country.

Change May Come Soon

The board acknowledges that unregulated, unlicensed opportunities for interactive gaming exist and discourages people from taking part in those activities. Instead, the board decrees that South African gamblers seeking online fun should pursue wagering opportunities through one of the country's approved bookmakers.

Change may come soon, however: With the pending 2008 amendment hanging over the heads of policymakers, many online casino operators and punters see no danger in participating in online games. The risk is viewed as minimal.

Unregulated Sites: "Use At Your Own Risk"

The laws about interactive gaming in South Africa can be confusing. Because of this, many citizens continue to enjoy online gaming offered by unregulated foreign companies. They see no problem with participating in the interactive games that are available to them via their own personal computer. This is based on the assumption that if anyone should be penalized for illegal activity, it would be the gaming companies, not the citizens.

Logo of the 1994 African National CongressAccording to this reasoning, the burden of risk falls more on the shoulders of site providers than individual punters. The National Gaming Board's website, however, warns that individuals could be prosecuted for up to R10 million and 10 years of imprisonment for using interactive websites.

In the coming months, some experts predict that South Africans will see law changes that lead to increased opportunities for legal Internet gaming. This prediction has online providers poised and ready to dive in when the time comes.

Approved Providers: A Safe Choice

South Africans are particularly fond of games of chance like lottery, bingo, and horse racing. While they wait for more permissive laws to go into effect, those citizens wishing to engage in legal online betting can always do so via one of the country's licensed bookmakers.