South Africa Plans to Tighten Gambling Laws

Blue pushpin on map of South Africa

While South Africa’s gambling laws have traditionally been controversial, it appears that the authorities plan to tighten them in the near future. This will no doubt cause a huge amount of debate and disagreement in the coming months.

Gambling in South Africa

While gambling reformers want the market opened up so additional revenue can be generated, traditionalists want to ensure that the existing heavy restrictions are continued. In most ways, online casinos are banned in South Africa. This has led to a growing black market, with South African gamblers being forced to use different tricks to access online gambling sites that are overseas and still accept business from South African customers.

A blanket ban on gambling was repealed in 1994 and, through the National Gambling Act in 1996, a wide-ranging licensing system was introduced. This meant that the National Gambling Board was the industry regulator and the nine provinces in the country were allowed to license online sportsbooks and physical casinos. The 2004 National Gambling Act introduced further freedom, but online casinos were still not legal.

While physical casinos could reap a lot of benefits from these changes, online sports betting was allowed only after they have the necessary licenses from the province where they are located. An amendment to legalize all types of online gambling was proposed in 2008, but it was not enacted.

A 2010 court ruling banned overseas online casinos from offering their services to South African gamblers, which they had been doing so despite the ban on these platforms. This rule even extended to sports betting. Now it is illegal for South Africans to use an online gambling platform with an operator that is not licensed, controlled, and regulated by the local provinces and the NGB.

Any party who breaks these various laws face stiff penalties, which could be a fine up to £572,000 ($751,000) or even a prison sentence as long as ten years. However, most of those still offering online gambling outside of these restrictions are based overseas, which means they can avoid these penalties.

That’s why some major online casinos are still happy to deal with South African players. For legal gambling opportunities in South Africa, the most popular option is the national lottery; over 80% of the legal population is said to purchase a ticket for the draw every week. Sports betting is another very popular pastime in the region.

Potential upcoming changes

A National Gambling Amendment Bill has been tabled by the minister for trade and industry in South Africa, Rob Davies. Some legislators have been working on this since 2016; it proposes various alterations to the current core gambling legislation in the country, along with the toughening of some existing laws.

Numerous notable changes in this bill will no doubt cause a lot of debate and controversy in the country. The NGB would be repositioned so it would be a national gambling regulator. Both betting on dog races and the operation of these races would be banned in the country. The regulation for lotteries and relevant sports pools would be transferred to a new National Lotteries Commission.

The regulations for casinos would be strengthened, and there would be stricter laws for bingo and limited pay-out machines. There would be a strict maximum number of machines and bingo licenses, a self-regulating body for horse racing, and new restrictions for gambling premises and the location of automated tellers. This would include a restriction on hidden and separate entrances for gambling-related establishments located in public places, such as shopping centers and arcades.

Any unlawful winnings will be forfeited, with the proceeds going to the National Gambling Regulator. There would also be widespread restrictions on gambling ads if this amendment bill goes through.

A complete version of this bill is available here.