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Is it legal to gamble in South Africa

Many players of South Africa are confused in regards to gambling laws and whether they can gamble online legally or not. With the rise of gambling online sites and the easy to access them for game play with mobile, tablets, laptops and PC, players avoid visiting land casinos which are located at far distances and places.

Gaming laws in South Africa have undergone a number of changes since South Africa’s Gambling Act of 1965 was enacted. Since that time the gambling industry has also undergone many changes and the establishment of online casinos has added a new dimension to the issue. While the National Gambling Act of 2004 banned online gambling in South Africa, and the subsequent updated laws of September 2011 clarified that online gambling is illegal within South Africa’s borders, there are still plenty of South Africans who enjoy the services and games of quality online casinos. The reason is that the South African online gambling laws are geared towards the online casinos themselves, and do not target the individual players.

The past laws

According to Wikipedia gambling in South Africa has been heavily restricted since 1673, with South Africa’s Gambling Act of 1965 officially banning all forms of gambling except betting on horse racing which existed as a sporting activity.

In the late 1970s casinos started operating in the bantustans (the nominally independent areas called homelands) of Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda. Only native South Africans lived there and most citizens couldn’t access those gaming establishments. By 1995 an estimated 2000 illegal casinos were believed to be operating within the country. In 1994, when the new democratic government came to power, all forms of gambling were legalized. In 1996 the National Gambling Act instituted a system of licensed casinos and a single national lottery. Horse racing was also proclaimed gambling activity.

The National Gambling Act of 1996

The National Gambling Act of 1996 made provisions for the regulation of gambling activities and promotion of uniform norms and standards in relation to gambling throughout the country. It gave definitions to different gambling notions, described how the 40 gambling licenses should be distributed among the provinces and provided information on liability. It also established the National Gambling Board, an organisation responsible for the supervision and regulation of the gambling industry. This change in legislation saw the establishment of legal casinos, a national lottery and other forms of gaming.

In 2004, another National Gambling Act repealed the Act of 1996. Also in 2008 The National Gambling Amendment Act was introduced.

According to the 2006 study the most popular forms of gambling in South Africa were the National Lottery (96.9% participation), slot machines (27.7% participation), scratchcards (22.7% participation), charity jackpot competitions (11.6% participation) and horse racing betting (11.5% participation). 8.3% of respondents said they have never gambled and a further 5.5% characterised themselves as occasional game players with no regular forms of gambling.

Types of gambling in South Africa

The  most  popular types of gambling in South Africa are lottery, casinos and horse racing

  • South African National Lottery: The South African National Lottery was established in 2000 and has been in continuous operation since, apart from a suspension between April 2007 and October 2007. In its last year of operation transaction values totalled R3.972 billion, with an average of five million transactions per week, making it the most popular form of gambling in South Africa.
  • Casinos: Casinos operate in all metropolitan areas in South Africa. With the largest being the Tusk Rio Casino Resort, which is also the 5th largest casino in South Africa. Tsogo Sun Monte casino, also located in Johannesburg, is another of South Africas largest Casinos.
  • Horse racing: On-track betting on horse races was the only legal form of gambling in South African until 1996. Due to its complexity and the difficulty of attracting new players it did not effectively compete with the newly introduced National Lottery and casino games.

Note that betting on horse races is controlled by Saftote and operated by Gold Circle in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape and by Phumelela in the remainder of the country.

Licensed gambling sites

Each of South Africa’s nine provinces has a gambling and racing board. To offer online betting bookies must be licensed by one of these boards. Currently the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board (WCGRB) is largest provider of online bookmaker licenses. This board licenses 32 online bookmakers. South Africa residents can use these online betting sites legally. For bets involving horse racing 6% is deducted from winning to cover VAT. As of May 2012, no additional tax is charged to recreational bettors, and recreational gambling winnings are not considered income for income tax purposes.

In the 2006/2007 financial year licensed gross gambling revenue as monitored by the National Gambling Board totalled R13.52 billion, from R11.4 billion the previous year. 86.2 percent of that revenue was derived in casinos. In the same period the Board reported a total of 455 raids on and closures of presumed illegal gambling operations.

Online gaming laws

The National Gambling Act 2004 prohibited both offering interactive gambling services and engaging in online casinos. This rule applies to all online operators, licensed in any jurisdiction. It’s however important to note interactive gambling relates specifically to games such as casino, poker and bingo. Online sports betting, online horse race betting and the business of bookmaking is lawful in South Africa, provided that the person conducting such business holds the necessary provincial bookmaker’s licence(s), or is using a website with proper licence(s).

On 20 August 2010 even online gambling offered through servers located outside the country was banned in South Africa. This was the result of the North Gauteng High Court judgement on the jurisdiction of online gambling transactions in the country. Consequently, both offering gambling services online and gambling online became illegal. The only exceptions are province licensed horse racing and online sports betting. Casino sites, individuals, internet service providers and banks that process payments for online gamblers are subject to a fine of R 10 million or 10 years of imprisonment, or both. Mass media channels that transmit or facilitate advertisement of online gambling services (TV and radio, newspapers and magazines, outdoor advertising agencies) are also to be held liable.

Online casino games- Are they legal to play

While online casinos are banned in South Africa, the emphasis of the law and the responsibility rests with the banks that process payments for online gambling activities and with the operators of the gaming sites. While casino operators are banned from accepting South African players, individual players have never been targeted and prosecuted for playing at online casinos. The legal arm of South Africa has not stretched to the players themselves so it is the responsibility of the online casino operator to decide whether they want to operate in South Africa or not. The online casinos that do operate in South Africa are fully aware of the law and are located far enough from the country not to be concerned about any legal consequences.

Legal Online casinos in South Africa

According to the laws of September 2011, no online casino operator can legally offer gambling services within the borders of South Africa. However, there are still a wide choice of operators who continue to attract players from South Africa. Finding safe online casinos is a priority for South Africa gamblers. The casinos that you play at must be fully licensed and regulated in a reliable jurisdiction and must employ comprehensive security measures to ensure the protection of your financial information. An online casino that is audited by a third party will ensure that the casino complies with minimum standards for the industry which will further protect your rights and the fairness of play.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is online gambling legal?
According to Section 11 of the National Gambling Act states, a person must not engage in or make available an interactive game except as authorised in terms of this Act or any other national law.

2. Is online betting legal?
Online betting is legal with a licensed South African bookmaker.

3. Can South Africans gamble overseas?
South Africans cannot gamble with international companies from within the Republic.

4. Do I have to pay taxes on my online winnings?

Yes and no. South Africans betting on sports do not have to pay any sort of income tax on their winnings. However, winnings from horse racing wagers have a 6% Value-Added Tax (VAT) deducted. This is because again, online gambling is currently a punishable offense in South Africa, it would probably not be wise to report winnings coming from other forms of online gaming.

5. Can I legally deposit and withdraw money to online casinos?

Not legally, as online gambling in all forms is currently not permitted in South Africa. Players, banks, internet providers, and online casino operators are all subject to large fines and jail time if caught and penalized. Depositing and withdrawing at online sportsbooks is perfectly legal.

6. Do online casinos offer play in ZAR?

Many sites trying to bring in South African players will accept ZAR. Even if a particular online casino does not explicitly accept rand, it can always be converted into an accepted currency (subject to fees). Playing on casinos that accept South African rand lets you deposit, withdraw, and view your transaction history all in your home currency. All South African Internet sportsbooks will also accept their home currency.

7. Is my game play fair on the online casinos?

The most reputable online casinos  that accept South African players use software companies with pristine reputations, such as Playtech or RTG. Any casino licensed by an oversight organization like eCOGRA is subject to regular fair play audits as well.  Casinos meeting these standards of quality are ensured to have a fair and up-to-date random number generators for their games.

8. What is the minimum gambling age in South Africa?

Potential players need to be at least 18 years of age to gamble in South Africa. The legal gambling age applies whether you are playing live or on the internet. Keep in mind that online casino gambling sites may request identification.

9. How do I get excluded from gambling?
To be excluded from gambling you can approach your casino operator or Provincial Gambling Board to assist you in having yourself voluntary self excluded. Once this is done, your particulars will be circulated to all other licensed venues in order to prevent you from gambling. Third party exclusions can also be done, by making use of the courts to have a person on whom you are financially reliant excluded should he or she have a gambling problem. Once excluded the onus remains with the excluded person to stay away from the venues. The exclusion remains a contract between the excluded punter and the operator, if a punter is found in the gambling premises he/she will be charged with trespassing and may be arrested.

10. What do you do when you realize you or someone you are reliant on has a gambling problem?

You can call the toll free number 0800 006 008 or e-mail helpline@sargf.org.za

11. How do I lay a complaint on a gambling related matter?
You can contact your respective Provincial Gambling Board should you wish to lodge a complaint.

12. What are the key challenges of the gambling industry in Africa?

Current challenges within the gambling fraternity would include the

  • Lack of uniform norms and standards and a coordinated system in their application
  • Deficient regulatory frameworks or no clear regulation on gambling sector in some jurisdictions which leads to a number of ills such as dumping of obsolete gambling devices and equipment in such jurisdictions, operators flagrantly taking advantage of lacuna in law and regulatory limbos e.g. illegal online operators targeting and offering online gambling to the public while licensed elsewhere; its money leaving the country and no benefit to government in terms of creation of jobs and taxes paid.
  • Lack of enforcement of laws in some jurisdictions impedes development and creates an opportunity of unfair competitive practices as licensed operators compete for the same market with illegals.
  • Technological advancements posing a challenge to regulators across Africa and internationally – these have created grey areas within legislations and have to be tackled on an ongoing basis. This necessitates
  • Capacity to be built in order to enable regulators to always be in the forefront on gambling technologies e.g. gambling technical experts etc.

What it is important to realise is that what the law states and how it affects you. It is illegal for casino operators to offer services within the borders of South Africa. However, with the internet it is not too hard to get around these restrictions and online casino players from South Africa have been playing safely at dozens of online casinos that continue to offer their services. The casino operators themselves that offer services are the ones that are taking the risk. There have been no recorded incidences of legal action being taken against individual who play at online casinos in South Africa.