An overview of South Africa’s gambling scene

South Africa’s undoubtedly a country with a long and chequered past and the same can be said for the history of gambling in the country too. It first faced restrictions as long ago as 1673 and in 1965 gambling of all kinds, with the exception of on horseracing, was banned under the Gambling Act.

Rather than eradicating Gambling completely this had the effect of driving it underground and creating thousands of illegal casinos and by the early 1990s it was thought that there were around 2000 of these operating in the country. Some were permitted in the Bantustans of Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda however; these were mainly used by native South Africans and were not generally accessible to others.

Everything changed in 1994 with the election of a democratic government and the dismantling of apartheid. One of the many sweeping changes that were introduced was the passing of the National Gambling Act of 1996, which made provision for licenced casinos and a national lottery. In addition, it saw the establishment of the National Gaming Board, the body that oversees all aspects of gambling to this day.

Now there are no less than 57 licenced casinos in South Africa, mainly located around major cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The situation today surrounding online gambling is not so clear. That’s because in 2004 the National Gambling Act was introduced banning all forms of interactive gaming online. This included casinos games, poker and even bingo but betting online on sports including horseracing was still permitted. In 2008 an amendment to the Act was passed which would have overturned the ban but, for a number reasons, it is still to be turned into law.

A Vegas of Africa?

Sun City South Africa
Sun City Casino resort in South Africa, one of the country’s most prestigious casinos.

A number of observers have remarked that South Africa is the sort of country that could easily do a great deal more to turn itself into a casino destination, perhaps in the style of a Las Vegas or a Macau. It certainly has the tourist numbers to justify it – in August 2017 official figures showed that 3,5 million visitors passed through the country’s points of entry. Many will have been attracted by the fine weather and opportunities to see some of the world’s most impressive wildlife in its natural habitat, but a highly developed casino scene would undoubtedly prove to be an additional draw.

While neighbouring countries Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana also have fairly liberal gambling laws they have nowhere near the number of casinos of South Africa. For example, Namibia only has three and Zimbabwe has 21 compared with South Africa’s 58. Cape Town has the highest concentration with five in total, one of the largest being the Grand West Casino & Entertainment World. It first opened in December 2000 and features 79 table games and over 2,500 slots in its 120,000 sq. ft. playing area along with ten poker tables. As the largest entertainment venue of its kind in South Africa it’s owned by the Sun Entertainment Group.

Also owned by the same group is the Sun City Casino Resort. This was officially opened back in 1979 and has a 125,000 sq. ft. gaming floor with 33 table games and over 850 slots. It also has no less than four resort hotels attached to it offering over 1,500 rooms and suites. Its more rural location in the North West Province makes it a perfect location for a getaway from the country’s cities and urban areas.

But if you’re looking for one of the biggest actual casinos in the country then perhaps you should head for the Montecasino in Johannesburg. Owned by Tsogo Sun and open since November 2000 it is a loving recreation of an ancient Tuscan Village and even features a replica of an Italian sky painted on the interior of its huge roof. The gaming floor covers nearly 280,000 sq. ft. and is home to 70 table games, 1,860 slots and 8 poker tables housed in the Montecasino Poker Room. Most of all, in terms of a spectacle, it can probably match anything on offer in Vegas.

A boost to the economy

In terms of their contribution to the national economy of all the forms of gambling casinos are the clear leaders who, according to the 2017 report from the National Gambling Board, casinos accounted for 73.2% of the turnover of the gambling industry in general with other forms of betting such as on horseracing coming second at only 12.2%. In terms of Gross Gambling Yield this amounted to almost 18 billion rand, a rise of nearly 4% over the previous year.

All in all, the gambling industry contributed 2.7 billion rand in taxes in 2017 underlining its importance to the economy.

However, the potential is surely there for it to boost the economy even more if only the situation surrounding online gambling could be clarified. One only has to look to the UK which has many very successful online casinos and poker sites that have seen this form of gambling rise to outstrip offline gambling in terms of gross gambling yields. Although the 2008 amendment to the National Gambling Act theoretically opened the gates for online gambling to be made legal, as already mentioned, it’s still waiting to be enacted. One theory is that traditional land-based casinos have exerted pressure fearing that it will be them who will be hit the hardest.

Poker laws 888poker.com
A look at various laws surrounding poker around the world. | Source: 888poker.com

The legal situation

The state of affairs was directly challenged in 2011 in the case of Casino Enterprises (Pty) Ltd (Swaziland) v Gauteng Gambling Board when the former claimed that the computer servers required for online gambling were outside the country so playing from within South Africa should be permitted. Unfortunately for the millions in the country who’d like the chance to play online legally the court announced gambling was a prohibited activity in terms of the NGA, even if the server delivering the service was situated outside South Africa.

Despite this setback, many are watching the situation carefully and hope that there will be a change in the law soon, not least to give even more of a boost to the country’s economy. But in the meantime anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law will have to stick to South Africa’s many bricks and mortar

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