Despite not being the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of South Africa, gambling has always been one of the most popular leisure activities in the country. And with the rise of online casinos and mobile game technology, gambling has only sky rocketed in this large African nation.
However, when it comes to legislation, most South African online casinos operate in the country within a grey area of legality. Since the National Gambling Board doesn’t officially approve online casinos, most operators that cater to SA players will be licensed elsewhere, so they can still ensure player safety despite not being technically legal. Springbok casino is a good example, but there are also many other good ones.
But is playing in these South African online casinos truly illegal? Well, the answer is technically yes. However, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. To understand the matter, you’ll need to brush up on your knowledge of the country’s legal regulations.
The Land Based Sector
Before the first foundations of online gambling were set, South Africa was a nation of many gambling houses which, at first, operated illegally. Before the 1996 National Gambling Act was introduced, nearly all gambling activities, apart from horse racing, were prohibited and prosecuted in the country. However, this didn’t stop the expansion of gambling activities everywhere across the country.
After the first act of 1965 made horse racing the only form of legal gambling, many illegal venues started sprouting over the Bantustans, some even offering nothing else but a roof and a single slot machine. These gambling houses were at first unavailable to the local inhabitants, but soon became open to all.
Despite not being legal, the expansion of gambling continued and leading to the opening of more than 2,000 gambling houses by the 1990s. This in turn, led the government to draft the 1996 Gambling Act which legalized all forms of gambling and launched a national lottery along with a network of licensed casinos. The act also led to the formation of the only SA regulatory body, the National Gambling Board.
However, the 1996 act was later repealed in 2004 and amended with the new 2008 gambling Act, which also introduced new restrictions, but this time for the online sector.
Online Gambling Law in South Africa
As of now, gambling at online casinos in Africa is still illegal. The new gambling acts and regulations that came after 2008 have made all online gambling activities, except for sport betting and horse racing, illegal. The illegality applies to both the gambler, who is prohibited to engage in casino games, as well as the gambling sites, who are not allowed to accept players.
However, even though the country’s regulatory body has been strongly advertising the legal consequences of engaging in online casino games since 2011(up to 10 years in prison), the government still hasn’t enforced any harsh penalties on online gamblers. This in turn has led many to continue enjoying casino games, despite the illegality of the matter.
The current situation is, simply put, a gray area. The law prohibits gambling and proposes fines, yet those fines aren’t enforced, despite so many people gambling. It is basically a “gamble at your own risk” situation, but with little to no risk involved.
What’s Stopping South Africa from Legally Accepting Online Gambling?
South Africa’s Democratic Alliance Party tried to pass a new bill called the Remote Gambling Bill in 2015 that was supposed to legalize and regulate online gambling. However, the bill was quickly shelved after being opposed by the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Gambling Board (NGB) on the grounds of them being faced with “too many [regulatory] challenges”.
The key challenge, as the NGB sees it, is that the regulatory body already faces” too many weaknesses in regulating the current gambling modes” to be able to legalize new forms of gambling. The first thing on their agenda is to make sure that gambling doesn’t grow to worsen the social damage its already causing and that illegal gambling is eradicated, before they can move on to “scrutinizing” online gambling.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, gambling in South Africa is at the following legislative standpoint:
- Land-based gambling is legal;
- Online horse-racing and sport betting is legal;
- Online casino and poker games are illegal;
- Fines and prosecution against those who gamble in online casinos are not truly enforced.