The online South African gambling market is booming. A quick internet search will reveal dozens of sites offering the latest slots titles and table games, along with the full range of payment options from Debit Card to SID Instant EFT. But you may also have heard that gambling online in South Africa is illegal. So what exactly, is the situation?
Is online gambling in South Africa legal?
Some organizations, such as the National Gambling Board (NGB), say that online gambling in South Africa is illegal. The NGB carries warnings on its website that the penalties for gambling online could be as much as R10 million as well as a jail sentence of up to ten years. Even if that penalty isnít applied, online gamblers face the risk of having their winnings seized and placed in what is known as the Unlawful Winnings Trust, which is also run by the NGB.
But if online gambling in South Africa is illegal, why are there are so many sites openly offering full casino services and why are so many South Africans using them?
Mixed messages on regulation
The fact is that although the NGB and the Casino Association of South Africa (who have most to lose if online gambling is legalized) will tell you that it is clearly illegal, the legal situation is more complex and the result of mixed messages from the South African government.
Gambling in South Africa is regulated by the 2004 National Gambling Act. This law laid out which forms of gambling would be allowed: mainly land-based casinos, sports betting and some gaming machines. Lotteries were already legalized under a 1997 Act.
But while the 2004 Act did not legalize online gambling, it clearly showed that the government was considering such a move, as it required the NGB to look into the issue. Four years later, the South African government came up with the National Gambling Amendment Act, which laid the foundations for the country to fully legalize online gambling. With these steps, the government appeared to be signalling that it was in favour of online casinos being legal.
Yet although the 2008 Act was signed into law by the President in the summer of that year, it has never been implemented. Due to administrative delays and subsequent back-tracking by politicians worried about the social impact of gambling, the Act was put on one side.
The situation was further complicated by a report from the government-created Gambling Review Commission in 2010. This report recommended that online gambling should be regulated and legalized. But it was rejected by the government. There then followed a Supreme Court of Appeal judgement in 2011 which found that anyone offering online casino gambling to South Africans along with any South African gambling on such a site, would be breaking the law, regardless of where the casino was based.
Yet in a final twist, while the government and the NGB will state publicly that it is illegal for South Africans to gamble at online casinos, and will warn people about the consequences, they have done little or nothing to enforce the law.
A thriving online industry
Meanwhile, the online casino gaming industry is thriving. There may be as many as 2,000 online casinos serving South African gamblers, offering the latest in slots titles, including big money progressive slots, and the full range of banking options. Most will also accept deposits and process withdrawals in Rand, which removes the inconvenience of currency exchange.
Avoiding the scam sites
While an internet search will bring up hundreds of South African online casinos, players are still advised to tread carefully. The legal grey area for online gambling in South Africa has made it possible for some unscrupulous operators to move into the market. Players who risk their money on such sites could lose it all or face delays or non-payment of winnings, while less reputable sites are also more likely to take a lax approach to security.
So to avoid the scam operators, South African online gamblers are increasingly turning to advisory sites that can recommend the best and safest casinos. Many of these advisory sites offer in-depth reviews and ratings of the relevant casinos, covering everything from the range and depth of their games to mobile compatibility, banking options and customer service.
And while South African players will not be able to find online casinos that have been licensed and regulated by the South African authorities, they can find more reputable overseas sites. Online casinos based in other countries can offer a degree of security. Many are regulated by well-known licensing authorities in Malta, the UK or the Caribbean and will display information on their security protocols and fairness credentials on their site.
By focusing on these overseas online casinos that display their licensing details, South African players can remove the risk associate with some of the more unscrupulous sites. And by using the various casino advisory sites, it is possible to find online casinos that offer games to suit every playing style, level of experience and bankroll size.
The importance of banking
The quality of a siteís banking service is also important to South African players, and shrewd online casino gamblers look for sites offering the widest possible range of deposit and withdrawal options, as well as fast withdrawals and minimal fees.
Although players may be concerned that their winnings might be vulnerable to confiscation it remains difficult for banks to confirm the legal status of individual online casino gambling transactions, and every day thousands of South African players use a wide range of banking options to deposit funds and collect winnings from online sites. By choosing a site that offers an efficient customer service department easily accessible in South Africa at any time of day or night, players can also give themselves extra insurance if they have a problem.
Meanwhile as South Africans enjoy online casino gambling, the legal arguments continue. Attempts by South African politicians, most notably in the Democratic Alliance Party, to officially legalize online gambling have failed due to opposition from the governing ANC party, but a report in 2015 showed that by not regulating online gambling, the South Africa government was missing out on tax revenue that could total as much as R110 million every year. Yet there appears to be no political will on the part of the government to resolve the issue and give clarity to South Africaís millions of online casino gamblers.