The History of Gambling Laws in South Africa

While South Africa as a country has a complicated history covering the good times and the sad times, the history of gambling laws in South Africa is rich with context and interesting changes throughout many hundreds of years, which is just as you’d expect from a country with so much culture and history.

In this article, we are going to look at some of the important moments in the history of casino and sports gambling in South Africa. We hope to shine a light on the industry and provide you with an understanding of where the laws are at currently, and where it appears to be moving as we head into the future.

What Gambling is Allowed in SA

First and foremost, we often find players asking this question – what gambling is allowed in South Africa?

After the laws being stagnant for hundreds of years, there have been many changes over the past few decades. These changes were to regulate gambling in South Africa, under the National Gambling Act 2004. An amendment to this act was published in 2008 (National Gambling Amendment Act); however, it has not been passed yet.

In South Africa, it is legal for punters to enjoy:

  • The South African National Lottery
  • Casinos
  • Horse racing
  • Sports betting

There are regulations in place covering these gambling activities, but for the most, they are entirely legal under the current legislation.

The Early Years of SA Gambling

As you know, South Africa has a long and storied history, and in a gambling sense, it goes back to 1673 when Dutch settlers first banned almost all methods of real cash/rand gambling. However, this wasn’t officially illegal until 1965 with the South African Gambling Act.

Yes, that is 292 years between the two.

Although it was now traditionally illegal, in 1965 four leaders from the SA territories of Bophuthatswana, Transkei, Ciskei, and Venda, opposed the Government and made cash casino gambling legal within their territories.

This led to the first casino contract, being that between Bantustan and the well-known hotel companies Holiday Inn and Southern Inn.

Later in 1983, a man who owned a small shareholding of the Southern Sun (Sol Kerzner) sold his shares and used the money to establish a new casino, which would eventually become Sun International.

By the mid-1990s, Sun International owned all 18 of the gambling licenses. Kerzner would eventually agree to a high tax percentage within each of the local leaders where Sun International operated. 

This was the start of the company being the top casino company in SA – although they didn’t really have any competitors anyway.

Beginning to Regulate Casinos and Gambling

In 1996, policies were created to legalise and regulate a broader amount of gambling activities thanks to the National Gambling Act. Before 1996, the only form of gambling that was widely legal was the betting on horse racing (remember, the casinos were area-specific such as Planet 7 Oz).

The National Gambling Act laid the foundation to regulate gambling and allowed each of South Africa’s provinces to establish their own legislation on gambling.

The act also limited the number of casinos in SA (40) and how many were allowed within each province.

In 2004, the act was repealed and replaced entirely. In 2008, an amendment was put forward to make further changes through the National Gambling Amendment Act – some of these including legalising online casino gambling in its entirety. 

This amendment is yet to pass and is facing tough opposition from local leaders.

The Future of Gambling in South Africa

While much of the world is embracing or working towards embracing online casino gambling, this is still something that is in the works for South Africa. Although many illegal online casinos are operating on the internet and targetted towards Rand players, law enforcement does not have the resources to combat this.

As South Africans look towards what’s next, all roads would likely appear to be heading towards a regulated online casino industry.

Many reputable and safe online casinos can be played online, as long as they are operated offshore. In situations like the one that we face now, it is vital to follow a strategy around harm reduction, which is all about minimising the harm done, instead of trying to remove the potential of doing.

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