The legalisation of online gambling in South Africa has been a topic shrouded in mystery and confusion, and the current laws leave both operators and players in a precarious position if ever they were to be caught red handed.
This was one of the topics of SBC Digital Africa’s sizeable conference that directed its scope to iGaming in Africa. Gambling, especially sports betting, is on the up on the continent, with nations like Nigeria and South Africa leading the pack, and Ghana and Kenya showing plenty of promise.
It was cited that Bet9ja, Nigeria’s leading bookmaker was the second most visited website behind Google based on search engine statistics, while Hollywoodbets in South Africa ranks fourth on the list of most frequently searched websites.
One of the topics of discussion however covered a question that many punters are asking. When will online gamblers and online gambling operators feel safe going about their business? Is there a timeline attached to when we will be able to see an online gambling legislation that allows for legal engagement in the practice?
As it stands, the only legal and regulated form of online gambling that exists within the nation is sports betting through licensed betting sites in South Africa.
The law explicitly states that both the provision of and the engagement in online gambling in the forms of poker, bingo and casino games is prohibited, and is punishable with a fine up to R10 million or 10 years imprisonment.
Where the confusion lies is in the government’s indecision and lack of action. As early as 2004, the National Gambling Act (NGA) appeared open to looking into creating a regulated market, going as far as mandating the appointment of a committee to take action.
In 2008, the release of the National Gambling Amendment Act, gave many punters a glimmer of hope as the government outlined the creation of a new gambling framework set to include new forms of gambling beyond online gaming. The act was signed into law, but was never given a launch date.
Over a decade later, and punters are still eagerly waiting for new developments.
The panel tasked with tackling this issue at SBC Digital Africa’s conference made mention of the fact that many online casino games are extremely popular, for their simplicity, catchy and fun themes, and for the possibility of sizable winnings.
Panel member Lee Zama, Board Member of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa , outlined four key tenets that the government need to consider when moving forward on legislation: The first being safety in the gaming space, with support being cited as closely tying into this factor. Gambling can be addictive, and government need to ensure that there are measures in place to ensure the prevention, and intervention of problem gambling
The second core tenet made mention of was policing, and how government can ensure proper policing of the industry. In this factor, the operators themselves are called upon, to step up and put their full weight behind assisting the state in this regard.
The third tenet revolved around economic significance and revenue potential when it comes to taxation. As it stands, it is estimated that one in ten South Africans gamble, more of whom are taking to the online form, and of these one in ten, it is estimated that an average of R150 per month is spent on gambling. This essentially means the potential revenue from taxation could be more than substantial.
The fourth and final factor that the government needs to consider when regulating a new activity is equitability, and how the government can ensure fair play and equal access.
By assessing the situation from these four factors, safety and policing are the two major boxes that need to be ticked. The economic significance is unquestionable, and online gambling is a practice that is enjoyed amongst many different demographic groups in South Africa.