South African Online Casino Law

The first question that comes to your mind as a new South African player looking to play at an online casino in South Africa would be ‘Is online casino gambling legal in my country’? The answer to this question is not too hard to find, but it is better to first get a historical perspective of casino gambling in South Africa. On this page we will discuss the various aspects of the legality of South African online casino gambling. We will take a look at the history of gambling in the country and also discuss where it stands today.

A Brief History of Gambling in South Africa

The history of gambling in South Africa has been checkered and doused with liberal shades of grey in the past. Gambling was a banned activity in South Africa from as long back as 1673 with the settlement of the Dutch at the Cape. The passing of the Gambling Act in 1965 ensured all other forms of gambling except horse racing –which was considered a sport – were banned in the country.

However; a ban is never absolute; human nature dictates that some people resort to illegal means to sidestep the ban for profit. And this happened in South Africa too with regard to gambling. Illegal casinos began to crop up as a result of the ban. These were found especially in the following 4 Bantustans:

  • Bophuthatswana
  • Venda
  • Ciskei
  • Transkei
The initial surfacing soon became an explosion and in a short time there were more than 2000 such illegal casinos operating. Things changed drastically with the swearing in of the new Government led by Nelson Mandela in 1995. A law passed in 1996 legalized some of the forms of gambling and led to the setting up of the first licensed casinos, along with the national Lotto lottery and a national horse racing totalisator that year. The new law allowed for the setting up of 40 licensed casinos.

The Legality of Online Casino Gambling in South Africa in the First Decade of the 21st Century

In 2004, the government passed an updated version of the law – the National Gambling Act – that banned interactive gambling, the official term used for online gambling. The games covered under this term included casino games, bingo, and also poker. It however did not cover online betting on horse races and also online bookmaking; the only requirement was that existing rules had to be followed.

Things looked set to change with the passing of the National Gambling Amendment Act in 2008. Online casino gambling was all set to be legalized, even if in a limited manner. The Act in fact said as much, but then its stance was negated by the Gauteng Gambling Board in 2010. Local South African online casinos were still banned, and the government made it illegal to set up online casinos within South Africa.

The decision to negate the stance of the act of 2008 arose possibly due to stiff resistance from the land-based casinos as online casinos would be a direct threat to their business and profitability. However, players took recourse to the one way out: playing at online casinos of operators outside South Africa.

Online Casino Gambling’s Legal Status in South Africa Today

Online casino fans from South Africa have continued to play at online casinos in recent times as the direct thrust of the bills passed earlier were directed more at the operators. The Act of 2008 initially showed the government’s willingness to legalize online casino gambling. Players do not consider online casino gambling to be ‘illegal’; it is just not regulated. Therefore playing at online casinos outside the jurisdiction of the South African government was the safe way out.

Even when it comes to playing at casinos outside the jurisdiction of the South African government, there are issues related to games like online sports betting. Though it is regulated, bookmakers from outside South Africa do not allow South African players.

A draft of the Remote Gambling Bill of 2014 looked to change things drastically. The draft, first published in the Government Gazette, was sponsored by Geordin Hill-Lewis and said legalization of online gambling ‘was, at this point, a possibility but not a guarantee.’ That laid the foundation for the actual legalization of online casino gambling in South Africa.

The bill is protective in nature and seeks to protect the public (minors as well as adults) and online casino operators from the ill-effects of legalized online casino gambling. It would require operators to fall in line and follow the mandatory licensing elements and also comply with the requirements laid down by the Financial Intelligence Centre Act. Drafted along similar guidelines seen in Europe and Australia, this bill would cover games like:

  • Casino games
  • Sports betting
  • Equal chance games
The online casinos would be licensed by the National Gambling Board and operate in the same province from where it sought for and got an approved license. These operators could then also cater to players from outside South Africa; the only requirement was that these players would have to be registered with the casino.