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Gambling is a popular hobby in South Africa, but many people in the country may be unsure whether or not betting through the internet is legal.
Various changes to gambling rules and regulations have been brought in over the years, adding to the high level of confusion that a lot of people feel regarding the legality of the activity.
With online gambling has exploded in popularity over the last few years, many online sports betting sites and casinos are now aiming to attract South Africans to sign up for accounts.
But is it legal to gamble online and what does the law state about online betting right now? Our complete guide to online gambling in South Africa has all the details, so read on for full details.
South Africa's nine provinces all have a gambling board. It is these organisations that are in charge of whether or not a company should be allowed to run an online gambling site in SA.
For example, the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board are in charge of online gambling licenses in this part of the country. In fact, this board is widely thought to be the largest provider of online bookmaker licenses in South Africa at the present time.
Also in place is the National Gambling Board (NGB), which is an official body that is responsible for the oversight of gambling industry regulation throughout South Africa.
As it states on the NGB's official website, the organisation's "strategic intent is to sustain and grow its regulatory capability to position South Africa as the pre-eminent jurisdiction with an exemplary and effectively regulated gambling industry".
It is clarified on the NGB website that online sports betting is permitted, for example betting on horse racing through the internet, as long as the company has secured the relevant license.
However, other forms of online betting are still illegal despite various changes to the law that have been made over the past couple of decades.
It is stressed by the NGB that anyone who partakes in illegal gambling is not going to receive their winnings as the money will be confiscated before it is able to reach their bank account.
Those who bet illegally online are also warned by the NGB that they will be investigated as a result, with this potentially having an impact on the rest of their lives.
Naturally, just because many forms of online gambling are illegal in South Africa, this does not mean that it never happens. Let's have a look at the history of SA's gambling laws next.
Gambling has long been closely regulated in South Africa. At certain times in the history of the country, it has had some of the most restrictive gambling laws in the whole world.
Ever since 1673, laws against gambling in South Africa have been in place. But, more recently, there has been a gradual relaxation of the rules, with more South Africans liking to gamble.
South Africa's Gambling Act of 1965 led to an official ban on all forms of betting apart from gambling on the outcome of horse races, which was deemed to be in a different category.
Even then, many believed the gambling laws in South Africa simply did not make sense. While horse racing has always been closely linked to betting if it is legal to have a bet on the outcome of a horse race, why would it be illegal to place a wager on the result of a football match?
Nevertheless, the status quo remained despite the fact a large number of illegal casinos had begun to spring up across South Africa. These operations were particularly common in the bantustans, where mostly native South Africans lived.
During the 1990s, it was claimed that thousands of illegal casinos were operating in locations such as Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda. In 1994 a new government came to power in the country and made a change that meant all forms of gambling became legal in South Africa for the first time. This means casinos were now allowed to operate throughout the country and people could play games like blackjack and roulette without fear of reprisals.
The formation of South Africa's National Gambling Act resulted in the creation of a national lottery, while a system of licensed casinos was also introduced under the legislation. But this did not last too long. Indeed, another National Gambling Act - which was brought in during the 2000s - repealed the Act of 1996. The new legislation prohibited both offering and engaging in internet-based betting and gambling. The specific term that was used in the Act was "interactive gambling", which relates specifically to games such as poker and bingo, as well as casino games such as blackjack, roulette and so on.
A few years later, the National Gambling Amendment Act of 2008 was published. The aim of this Act was to introduce legalised interactive gambling in the country. However, the legislation was met by strong opposition, including from land-based gambling houses, which means it is yet to be passed into law, even now, more than a decade on from when it first emerged.
Further updates to gambling laws in South Africa have continued to be introduced. For example, in 2010 it was announced that online gambling that was offered through servers that have been located outside the country was to be banned in South Africa. Many operators located their servers away from the country in the hope that this would mean their casinos were legal to use.
While there is confusion about online gambling laws in South Africa, the picture is fairly clear when it comes to regulations specifically surrounding sports betting on the internet.
Online sports betting is permitted in South Africa, as long as the operator has a license. To this day, there are said to be more than 30 licensed online sports betting sites in South Africa.
In order to be a licensed sports betting operator in the country, companies must successfully apply to one of the gaming boards that is run by South African provinces, such as the Western Cape Gambling and Racing Board.
The provincial gambling boards are also overseen by the National Gambling Board, which is the central governing body that is responsible for all things gambling in South Africa.
Betting on horse races has always been a little different in South Africa. For a long time, all forms of online betting - apart from horse racing - was considered 100% illegal. This means online sports betting on horse racing has been popular for a long time in South Africa.
Now, though, since online sports betting sites are allowed to run in South Africa, horse racing is just one of the many different sports where there are betting markets available via the internet. Live in-play betting is also offered in a range of sports, such as tennis, football and cricket.
Mobile sports betting is also on the rise, with a lot of sports fans in South Africa preferring to place their wagers on the big game of the day through a device such as a smartphone.
Research suggests that in excess of 90% of South Africans now own a smartphone, so this is likely to be an increasingly popular method to bet on sport in the country. Not only do most online sports betting sites in South Africa work well via mobile, but operators are also increasingly developing apps that can be downloaded directly onto the devices to speed up the process.
Naturally, the sports betting industry in South Africa has been affected by the coronavirus crisis. With online sports betting being legal, it means South Africans who want to place bets have been able to do so through the internet, rather than having to travel to a land-based facility.
The trend towards online sports betting can be seen throughout the world, so it is likely that operators of online bookmakers in South Africa can look forward to enjoying a boom period.
It is also important to note that all winnings from online sports betting are tax-free. This means that anyone who is fortunate enough to land a big win from a sports bet will be able to keep 100% of the money, rather than having to hand over a significant portion to the government.
Part of online sports betting laws in South Africa is the need for operators to validate the identity of their customers, who need to upload FICA documentation such as a valid, South African ID.
Online casino laws in South Africa have been the subject of a lot of hot debate of late. With land-based casinos across the country having been forced to temporarily close down due to the coronavirus crisis, many people have wanted to play casino games online instead.
However, it is not currently legal to either run online casinos in South Africa or to play casino games such as blackjack and roulette through the internet.
But you can play certain live-draw casino games including Lucky 7, Speedy 7, Baccarat and much more through the BetGames section of some top South African gambling sites.
Various attempts to update online gambling laws have been made over the years. But they always tend to be met with strong opposition, with land-based casinos among the figures to be strongly opposed to the legalisation of online casino games in South Africa.
During the coronavirus crisis, more and more illegal online casinos sprung up in South Africa. Indeed, many members of the public may not have even realised that if they signed up for an account with one of these operators and played games online, they were breaking the law.
In order to remind people of online casino laws in South Africa, the NGB issued a strongly-worded statement on the matter in September 2020.
The body said: "To eliminate any uncertainty in this regard, the NGB wishes to make it emphatically clear that the answer to whether online or interactive gambling is legal in South Africa, is a simple and unequivocal NO with the exception of online sports betting."
It was also pointed out by the NGB that being convicted for breaking online casino laws in South Africa attract a fine of up to R10m (£470,000) or even result in imprisonment of up to ten years.
Players were also informed that any of their winnings from playing online casino games in South Africa illegally are likely to be confiscated and forfeited to the state.
Some industry figures have been calling for changes to South African laws that would result in online casino games becoming legal. Significantly, among them is the Gauteng Gambling Board chief executive Steven Ngubeni. Speaking in an interview that was published in April 2021, Ngubeni argued that the gambling industry in South Africa is "not responsive to innovation".
Many believe it is simply a matter of time until online casino laws in South Africa are radically revamped. With countries such as the United States slowly legalising online casinos, it is easy to foresee a future where the same happens in South Africa. But it might be some time yet.
South Africa's Remote Gambling Bill of 2014 was set to make major changes to online casino laws in South Africa. But the bill was not passed by the government, meaning anyone who wants to legally play casino games such as slots online in the country will have to remain patient for now. However, while online casinos are illegal, many operators still run sites in the country.
Bingo is popular across South Africa, but playing bingo online remains against the law in SA. While the NGB confirms that bingo has been rolled out in six provinces - Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal - players cannot play online legally.
This is because online sports betting is the only form of internet-based gambling that is currently permitted by law in South Africa, despite increasing calls for more legalisation.
There are more than 50 licensed bingo halls in South Africa in total. This means that many in the country will not live particularly close to one of the facilities. Anyone in this position will find it hard to play bingo legally until such a time when online bingo is made legal in South Africa.
Like with online casino games, the coronavirus crisis led to calls for online bingo to be made legal. As the pandemic resulted in the closure of many bingo halls in the country - at least on a temporary basis - fans of the game have been left unable to indulge their passion for months. Bingo represents more than 5% of gross gaming revenue in South Africa - according to the latest data available from the NGB - so it could be argued legalising online bingo in SA would result in plenty of money being made as a result of changes to online bingo laws in South Africa.
While wholly electronic bingo terminals have become popular among younger South Africans in particular, it is likely that these people would choose to play bingo online if they had the option. Naturally, as with online casinos, there are some sites offering online bingo to players from South Africa despite the fact this is against the law and they could face prosecution.
Online poker sites operate in South Africa despite the fact it is illegal for them to do so. Like other forms of internet-based gambling like online casino games including slots, it is not permitted to either run online poker sites or play online poker games in South Africa.
The South African poker scene is often said to be thriving, with the profile of the game continuing to increase. Raymond Rahme and Jarrod Solomon are among the South Africans to have become household names in the world of poker as a result of their success at the table.
Proposals have previously been made for online poker and other forms of internet-based gambling in South Africa to become legalised. But opposition to the plans, from groups such as operators of land-based casinos and poker halls, resulted in them failing to come to fruition.
It seems a fair bet that online poker laws in South Africa will be relaxed at some point in the future. With the online gambling industry has raised lots of revenues through taxation for many countries around the world, SA may be unable to resist the temptation for much longer.
The national lottery was founded in South Africa as a result of the 1996 National Gambling Act and apart from a brief period when it ceased operations in 2007, it has run ever since.
Lotteries are hugely popular in the country and research has even suggested that more than four-fifths of South African adults buy a National Lottery ticket at least once a week.
Despite this, online lottery laws in South Africa say that it is illegal to run lottery-based games through internet sites, such as online bingo, online poker and online casino games are banned.
Only organisations in South Africa that wish to run society lottery schemes are eligible to do so and they are required to register with the National Lotteries Commission to achieve this.
Research reports that have been published recently have indicated that online lotteries around the world are set to hit a record compound annual growth rate in the next few years.
South Africa, plus other countries around the world that still ban online lotteries, may therefore be missing out on the chance to claim a substantial amount of revenue from these games.
Lotteries through internet-based sites would have been permitted under planned changes to online gambling rules and regulations in South Africa a few years ago, but opposition resulted in the proposals failing to make it all the way to being passed into law.
Elizabeth Marole is responsible for content on BettingGuide ZA. She has prior experience as a math teacher and plays poker professionally when not writing for BettingGuide. Please contact her for any inquiries regarding gambling in South Africa.