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In South Africa the games are on

A history lesson

If you live in South Africa and you are merrily gambling away on your desktop or cellphone, you might not know that you are lucky to be able to do so. Enabling you to partake in the games is not as straightforward as it may seem and you should thank some offshore gaming provider for the privilege.

One of the earliest gambling laws to spoil the fun in South Africa was the Gambling Act of 1965, which officially banned all forms of gambling, except betting on horseracing, which the government considered a sporting activity.

In the late 1970s casinos started operating in the Bantustans (the independent homeland areas demarcated as part of the Apartheid regime), one of which was named Bophuthatswana. Bophuthatswana-mapSome of us born in SA will still recall the years when, as students, we regularly “crossed the border” to partake in the gambling activities and watch the banned movies on offer in one of the prestigious resorts called Sun City. Many referred to it as “Sin City” and to us it was as glamorous as Las Vegas, just on a smaller scale.

Despite the gambling laws, by 1994 an estimated 2000 illegal casinos were operating in South Africa. This situation was neatly resolved when the new democratic government came to power in the same year and legalized all forms of land-based gambling.


Forget land-based

By 2000, South African law did not yet address Internet gambling in any detail, but something was sure to come. The South African government had to respond to the increasing mobility and Internet access enjoyed by its citizens and what this meant for the remote gaming market.

The National Gambling Act of 2004 prohibited engaging in interactive games (games on the Internet). Interactive gambling relates specifically to games such as casino, poker and bingo. The National Gambling Amendment Act of 2008 was an attempt to legalize interactive gambling in the country and make provisions for the regulation of this market. However, interested parties (legal land-based gambling houses and anti-money laundering authorities), actively confronted the move and the act did not come into power.

On 20 August 2010, government banned online gambling offered through servers located outside the country. This meant that online gambling services and online gambling became illegal. Casino sites, individuals, internet service providers and banks that process payments for online gamblers were now subject to a fine of R 10 million or 10 years of imprisonment, or both.

Today, nothing stops South Africans from playing at international internet casinos and many of these claim that monetary transactions with SA banks will not be a problem. They offer banking methods designed to allow South African gamblers to deposit real cash securely and safely at the Internet casino site of their choice.

Some of these casinos being promoted with South Africans are Springbok Casino, Yebo,, Fiz Casino, and Rich Casino.

Forget desktop

CardsChat have a very good collection of web pages dedicated to Android, Mobile, iPhone and Mac for mobile players. They make it clear that operating a mobile casino platform within South Africa is illegal. Although they mention “good South African mobile casino operators”, it is debatable whether these actually operate legally within SA’s physical borders. Physically means that they have a server running that operates and gives access to gambling applications.  Instead, “South African online casinos”, powered by software such as Playtech, are licensed in “reputable jurisdictions”, which could be anywhere in the world but not on South African soil. Millions of South African citizens have cell phones and access to broadband and the Internet. It follows then, that anyone in the country can gamble from their cell phone, provided they have access to the Internet. Most games do not even have to be downloaded, but only need a decent web browser and a reasonable screen size to deliver the goods. So, there is a hole the size of the Kimberley diamond mine in the laws that forbid on-line gambling in South Africa.

It is estimated that as many as 5% of South Africans gamble to the excess. For those who develop problems with gambling, there are reputable organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous South Africa and the National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRPG), who advise gamers on responsible gambling. The South African Revenue Services do not consider recreational gambling winnings as income for tax purposes, so for players it is tempting to allow gambling to become a handy source of income, which it should not be.

There is huge potential for gaming operators and players once on-line gambling is legalized in South Africa and we can expect new, more accommodating laws any day now. It can be a useful source of tax revenue for the government, too. The challenge is to organize it efficiently, and for it not to become another revenue bucket with a hole through which opportunists can syphon away money that is much needed to meet this country’s educational, health and infrastructure needs.