South African players enjoy slots, lottery games, scratchcards, horse betting, and charity gambling. The most popular form of gambling in South Africa is the lottery, followed by slots gaming. A small section of the country's population, around 8%, claims that it never gambles; and an even smaller percentage, around 5%, claims that it gambles occasionally and doesn't prefer any form of gambling over the other. A huge percentage of the gaming revenue, over 80% of it, as reported by the National Gambling Board (NGB), comes from land based casinos and South African online casinos. According to the latest report on gambling, South Africa is expected to generate as much as R30 billion of gambling revenue by 2019.
History of Gambling in South Africa
South Africa did not approve of gambling from 1673 to 1994. The Gambling Act of South Africa, which was passed in 1965, banned all gambling activities except horse betting as horse racing was considered to be a sport. But this piece of legislation did not stop South Africans from gambling on the sly. As a result, South Africa had more than 2000 illegal gambling establishments. This forced the government to reconsider its policy towards gambling. In 1994, the country's new democratic government legalized all forms of gambling through the National Gambling Act, which it passed in 1996.
The National Gambling Act of 1996 defined various forms of gambling and led to the creation of a uniform gambling policy throughout South Africa. It described how gambling licenses should be granted to various provinces and was responsible for the establishment of the NGB, which currently regulates and monitors the gambling industry in the country. As a result of this law, a number of legal forms of gambling, including licensed land-based casinos and a government-run lottery game, were established in South Africa.
The National Gambling Act of 1996 was repealed in 2004 and an amendment to the same was proposed in 2008. The National Gambling Act of 2004 attempts to ban online gambling, but ineffectively. It prevents offering as well as participating in online gambling activities. But it applies only to online bingo, online poker, and online casino, not online sports betting and online horse betting. On the contrary, the amendment of 2008 tried to legalize online gambling in South Africa although the country's land-based gaming industry disapproved of it as it felt that online gambling, if legalized, would cannibalize the existing brick-and-mortar casino gaming industry. So far, the amendment has not yet been enforced.
On Aug 20, 2010, South Africa tried to ban offshore online casinos accepting South African players. The direct cause of this ban was a judgment by the North Gauteng High Court. According to a MyBroadband report of March 2011, the National Gambling Amendment Act of 2008 may be enforced only after the high court hears an appeal against the judgment pronounced by the North Gauteng High Court, which ruled in 2010 that it was illegal for online casinos such as Silver Sands Casino and Piggs Peak to operate in South Africa although they were not based inside the country.
Acting on the judgment, the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) informed the media that all forms of online gambling are illegal in South Africa till the National Gambling Amendment Act of 2008 is brought into effect. However, Michalsons Attorneys has clarified that the National Gambling Amendment Act includes provisions for granting online gambling licenses. He opined that online gambling is not really illegal, only that it is impossible for any operator to obtain a license to operate online casinos in South Africa at present.
About the NGB
The NGB, which bears the responsibility of regulating South Africa's gambling industry, clearly states on its official website that "online gambling is illegal" and that illegal gambling is punished with prison time or heavy fines. It stated in a press release of 2011 that operating online casinos in South Africa is illegal and that it is illegal for South Africans to register at online casinos that have their servers outside South Africa.
It encouraged offshore operators to use the latest technology to prevent South Africans from gaining access to their online casino services. It also threatened that online casinos continuing to accept South African players would not be granted licenses to offer online casino gaming services when South Africa finally legalizes online gambling, or in other words, when the National Gambling Amendment Act (2008) is finally enforced.
Legalized Gambling in South Africa
South Africa has legalized the following forms of gambling:
National Lottery - South Africa's national lottery game has been in operation right from its establishment in 2000. Since it averages a weekly five million transactions, it becomes the most popular forms of gambling in South Africa.
Casinos - The government of South Africa has licensed a number of online casinos, enabling its citizens to play in a safe, secure, and well-regulated environment. Some of the biggest casinos in South Africa are Tsogo Sun, MonteCasino and Tusk Rio Casino Resort.
Horse Betting - Before the enactment of the National Gambling Act of 2006, horse betting was the only legal gambling activity as horse racing was considered to be a sport. Despite the status of legality it enjoyed, its complexities did not allow it to become as popular as lottery gaming and slot gaming, which were legalized much later.
Online Racebooks and Sportsbooks - Currently, only online sports betting is legal in South Africa. Each province of South Africa has its own racing and gaming board. Operators of online sportsbooks have to obtain a license from their respective board in order to legally offer online sports betting services. The Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board (WCGRB) has granted more online sports betting licenses than any other board. South African bettors can legally place bets online at these online sportsbooks.
Can South African Players Play Online?
South African players are still confused about whether it is legal for them to play at offshore online casinos. They are well aware of the fact that the South African government is in no position to grant online gambling licenses to any operator at present. They are also well aware that all forms of online gambling, except horse betting and sports betting, are illegal in South Africa. They also know that the NGB has clearly stated that online gambling is illegal.
At the same time, they see a number of offshore online casinos openly accepting South African players and allowing them to play in Rands. These offshore online casinos also offer generous welcome bonuses in Rands. So far, no South African player has been fined or thrown in prison for playing real money casino games online. Does this, then, make online gambling legal?
The simple answer to this question is that the law can be interpreted differently. It is definitely illegal to operate an online casino within South Africa because the National Gambling Board does not grant online gambling licenses at present. It is also illegal for citizens to play at an online casino that operates without a license within South Africa. But there is nothing the South African government can do against citizens playing at online casinos that are operating under a valid gambling license outside South Africa.
According to the National Gambling Act, Section 11, as quoted on the NGB website, "A personal must not engage in or make available an interactive game except as authorized in terms of this Act or any other national law." Statements such as these can be interpreted in different ways. It is precisely for this reason that we have so many South Africa facing online casinos that operate under online gambling licenses issued in Gibraltar, Alderney, Curacao, and other gambling jurisdictions, and South African players continue to enjoy their services without being penalized.