A Comprehensive Guide to Gambling in South Africa

The legal landscape of gambling in South Africa has evolved over the years, and is still evolving now. There are many grey areas when it comes to online gambling in South Africa and players will find many top-tier off shore online casinos which cater specifically to South African casino enthusiasts.

We take a look at the history of South Africa’s path to legalised gambling and examine what the current status is. We look at different types of gambling available in South Africa such as lottery, sports betting, horse racing and casino games.

Historical Context of South Africa's Gambling Landscape

Origins and Evolution

South African betting laws have been carefully and rigidly managed since the 17th century. For centuries, betting in South Africa was either wholly banned or, throughout the majority of the 19th and 20th centuries, was restricted mainly to horse racing.

Notable Legislations in the History of Gambling

  • 1965 Gambling Act: This legislation fortified the nation's anti-gambling position, constraining betting strictly to physical locations at South African racetracks. Despite the laws, illicit casinos sprouted in Bantustans or homelands, zones demarcated due to apartheid regulations, offering the only gambling avenues for locals for about 30 years.
  • 1996 National Gambling Act: The historic end of apartheid in 1995 heralded Nelson Mandela's democratic government. Recognising the fiscal benefits of legitimate betting, the 1996 Act sanctioned licensed casinos, online sportsbooks, lotteries, and Bingo.
  • 1996 Establishment of National Gambling Board and Provincial Oversight: Alongside greenlighting 40 state-sanctioned casinos, this legislation also introduced a National Gambling Board. This institution, while not directly regulatory, provides guidance on subjects like gambling advertisements and curbing problem gambling. Regulation and local licensing responsibilities fall to the nine provincial gambling boards.
  • 1997 Lotteries Act: A National Lottery was endorsed in 1997 and launched in 2000.
  • 2003 Introduction of Limited Payout Machines: South Africa saw the introduction of LPMs, with the 2003 gambling reforms permitting up to 50,000 of these machines across all provinces.
  • 2004 National Gambling Act: This revised Act focused on online gambling, permitting licenses for online bookmaking but excluding online casinos.
  • 2008 National Gambling Amendment Act: Passed in 2008, it aimed to extend online betting options, but its activation remains stalled over a decade later.

Online Betting in South Africa

From 2004 onwards, South African regulations have differentiated between online sports and horse race wagering (which is allowed) and other online gambling activities (which are forbidden). South Africans can legally bet on prominent sports events and horse races. Still, popular games like blackjack remain inaccessible online under current laws.

Despite the prohibition, a significant number of South Africans bypass these restrictions by turning to offshore online casinos. The 2008 amendment was intended to regulate this market, but its activation remains pending.

Provincial Gambling Boards

In 1996, a radical change in South Africa's legal gambling framework came with the National Gambling Act. It standardised regulations and championed prevention of problem gambling. Moreover, nine Provincial Gambling Boards were founded for localised control. Each board oversees the licensing and regulation of casinos, sports betting, LPMs, and Bingo within its province.

South Africa's Casino Landscape

In 1996, the National Gambling Act permitted 40 casino licenses across the provinces, with 39 presently in operation. Regulations stipulate that gamblers must be a minimum of 18 years of age.

Casinos in South Africa vary considerably in their offerings:

  • Small-scale casinos may house merely a few hundred slot machines.
  • Medium-sized establishments, such as Hemingways, generally offer around 500 slots.
  • Major "super casinos" like Montecasino present a vast array of slots, numerous tables, poker, dining, entertainment, and more.

Horse Racing and Sports Betting in South Africa

Horse racing in South Africa has a rich history, beginning with the inaugural race club meeting in 1802. The Jockey Club was founded in 1882, and by 1965, betting on races was legalised, but only on the track premises.

Every year, 27 prestigious group one races are held, with highlights including the J & B Met, Vodacom Durban July, and Sansui Summer Cup.

Key racetracks are located in major cities like Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Betting on horse races is considered "betting" rather than "gambling," allowing for legal online and in-person wagers.

Tab Online is the official betting platform, processing R70 million in weekly payouts and offering users a streamlined betting experience by linking their bank accounts.

Limited Payout Machines in South Africa

Limited Payout Machines (LPMs) offer a unique and regulated gambling avenue in South Africa, with a total of 50,000 units spread across its nine provinces.

Originating from the 1996 National Gambling Act, these LPMs, which resemble slot machines, have stringent rules in place. For instance, any licensed venue, whether it's a bar or restaurant, can only feature a maximum of five machines.

Moreover, players' stakes are capped at R5, and potential winnings cannot exceed R500. A closer look at the provincial distribution reveals Gauteng as the leader with 10,000 LPMs, closely followed by KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, each boasting 9,000 units. The remaining provinces have varying numbers, ensuring a widespread availability of these machines for residents and visitors alike.

National Lottery

The South African National Lottery, marking its 20th milestone recently, boasts an impressive penetration in the country. A staggering 96% of South African adults, those aged 18 and over, have tried their luck with the lottery, contributing to its five million weekly transactions. This immense popularity has driven its annual revenue to soar beyond R2 billion. With eight diverse games on offer, eager participants have multiple platforms to purchase tickets: from local retailers and certain banks to the official National Lottery website.

Additionally, major banking institutions like ABSA, FNB, Standard Bank, and Nedbank also facilitate these transactions. Importantly, while a portion of the revenue is set aside for operational costs and prize money, a commendable 34% is channeled towards charitable causes, underscoring the lottery's contribution beyond just entertainment.

Conclusion

South Africa's gambling sector is diverse, encompassing casinos, online sports betting, horse racing, LPMs, and the National Lottery. While some constraints exist, particularly in online casino gambling, the industry remains substantial and vibrant.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gambling in South Africa

Is online casino gambling legal in South Africa?

Online casino gambling is prohibited in South Africa. However, online sports betting and horse race betting are permitted.

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