South Africa’s legal situation in regard to online gambling

Is it legal to gamble online in South Africa? This is perhaps one of the most commonly asked issues in the country, and many people may have wondered whether playing their favorite games may result in a huge fine or, worse, jail time. Well, in South Africa, internet gambling is currently a murky area, and while there is a lot of regulation controlling it, there are a few gaps that allow it to be interpreted in many ways. If you’re concerned about playing online, knowing the history of the legislation governing online gambling, as well as the present state of affairs, will help you better grasp the issue.


Gambling in South Africa has a tumultuous history, and while you may now visit huge entertainment centres like Emperor’s Palace, Montecasino, and Grand West Casino and play just about any game you want, there was a period when playing games for a chance to win money was illegal. Horse racing became permitted in South Africa with the 1965 Gambling Act, while other activities were outright forbidden.

Of course, as is customary when governments prohibit any popular form of entertainment, individuals circumvented the law and began operating illicit casinos, and by the time the democratic elections of 1994 rolled around, there were thousands of them in operation. After Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, he altered the legislation to allow certain gambling, and licensed casinos were constructed where individuals could play their favorite games. Many people believed that the next natural step would be the legalization of internet gambling, however the Gauteng Gambling Board banned this in 2010.


So, if the word “legal online casino” conjures up images of paradoxes in South Africa, you might be wondering how some individuals can play without being arrested. It’s not that straightforward, though. The government stated in a 2008 Act that it was open to legalize internet casinos, which are not deemed ‘illegal,’ but rather ‘unregulated.’ The distinction is crucial in determining what you may and cannot do in online casinos. Many individuals understand this to indicate that they are unable to play at an online casino that operates within the country’s boundaries, i.e., has offices and staff there.

This might be construed to indicate that so-called “legal” internet casinos are those that provide services to South African players but are not based in the country.

“A person shall not engage in or make accessible an interactive game unless as authorised in terms of this Act or any other national law,” according to two sections of the SA online gambling legalization (which can be accessed on the National Gambling Board website: “Online betting is permissible with a registered South African bookmaker,” it also adds. To say the least, these words are perplexing to the layperson, which is why many individuals claim that the law governing South African online casinos is up to interpretation.


Many academics, particularly economists, believe that internet gambling should be made entirely legal in South Africa, and they may have cause to believe so. According to a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) analysis on gaming revenues, the sector raked in R23.9 billion in 2014, a figure that is expected to climb to R30.3 billion in 2019. In terms of taxes, it was estimated that the government received a stunning R2.5 billion in taxes from casinos in 2014, with sports betting (particularly horse racing) and EBTs (Electronic Bingo Terminals) doing particularly well in terms of revenue collection.

These numbers are based entirely on licensed casinos, the national lottery, electronic betting terminals (EBTs), and sports betting, and do not include online casinos that are currently deemed “unregulated.” Given South Africa’s current economic uncertainty, as well as the high taxes that both private citizens and businesses must pay, economists have raised an important question about the legality of online casinos in the country: how much money could be funneled into the country’s coffers if online gambling were legal? Though this is a tough statistic to estimate, it makes one wonder how much greater our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) could be if the government made internet gambling legal in South Africa.


So, what does the future hold? Will the South African authorities allow South African players to play when and where they want? Given the current state of affairs, this is unlikely to be a priority for the government, but if a more permanent Finance Minister is appointed, we may see a significant shift in how online casinos’ moneymaking potential is handled.

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