South Africa legalized online casinos back in 2008.
Or did they? Online casinos are currently illegal in South Africa.
So why are South Africans making deposits, placing bets, and withdrawing winnings from online casinos even as you read this?
Before we begin negotiating the legal maze to answer that question, a quick note about a naming convention we’ll use throughout this article.
Since no online casinos are based in South Africa, it befalls to friendly online casinos outside its borders to pick up the slack.
These neighborly casinos accept deposits and make payouts in South African Rands (denoted with ZAR, or more often, R). They offer games beloved by South Africans, they give generous welcome bonuses to South Africans when they sign-up, and they often provide news pertinent to South African gamblers.
Because of this, and because of their affinity with and generosity toward South Africans, we call them South African online casinos.
Well, that, and because typing “South Africa-friendly online casinos” over and over is very tiring.
Because it is inhabited by human beings, South Africa has a long history of gambling.
Long before the arrival of the Dutch in the mid-1600s, Bantu herdsmen gambled. It has not been discovered whether the Bantu contained factions who thought it unwise or immoral to gamble, but we can certainly say that the Dutch who arrived to colonize Cape Town and its environs contained such factions. As did the British, who made South Africa part of their Empire in the early 1800s.
No Means No
For nearly a century, gambling was more or less permitted in South Africa, depending on the game, the location, and the locals. In 1965, however, the federal government of what was now the Republic of South Africa decided that gambling must be routed out and banished forevermore, and the South Africa Gambling Act 51 of 1965 was passed quickly to facilitate said routing/banishment.
Think we’re kidding? Its purpose, to use the Act’s own words, was “[t]o prohibit lotteries, sports pools and games of chance and to provide for other incidental matters.”
And just what you might expect to happen, happened. Within a handful of years, unlicensed and illegal casinos began operating in the Bantu homelands. They proliferated to the point that, by 1995, it was estimated that as many as 2,000 illicit casinos were operating in the country.
Well, That’s Different
In 1996, South Africa passed the National Gambling Act, which established the National Gambling Board and charged it with the responsibility and the authority to oversee brick and mortar casinos as well as lotteries and horse-racing. It remained silent, however, on anything having to do with online casinos. Given the relative infancy of the internet at that time, this was understandable.
The South African National Lottery was established shortly thereafter and drew its first numbers on March 11, 2000. One note of interest: All the lottery games offered by South Africa are currently playable online.
The National Gambling Act of 1996 also provided for limited sports (or pool) betting, such as that on horse-racing. Placing wagers on games of chance, however, was expressly forbidden.
In 2004, recognizing that it had not sufficiently dealt with online gambling (which was already gaining in popularity among the newly-created hordes of internet users), South Africa passed National Gambling Act 7, which clearly states “A person must not engage in or make available an interactive game except as authorized in terms of this Act or any other national law.”
But You’ll Think About It, Right?
One plus to the 2004 Act may be found in one of its final provisions: “The [National Gambling Board] must establish a committee to consider and report on national policy to regulate interactive gambling within the Republic, and may include with its report any draft national law that the committee may consider advisable.”
Well, at least they’re willing to consider online casinos.
And consider them they have, with a 2008 bill of amendments to the Gambling Act that made provisions for the licensing of online casinos. Additionally, in 2009 South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry took that mandate to “consider and report” on interactive gambling seriously and published a list of possible regulations and rules that might be used to regulate legal online casinos in South Africa.
Among the many provisions suggested were R20,000 ($1,446 USD) limits on accounts with said online casinos, and one interesting idea: That the online casino display, once every hour, a “reality check” that stopped all gambling activity for the player, displayed his wins/losses for the previous hour along with the total time he had been playing during that entire session, requiring the player to acknowledge he has read this information, and affording the player the opportunity to quit or return to the game.
Sadly, the 2008 bill of amendments was never passed or implemented. Well, at least they were actually considering online gambling. In any case, none of the suggested policies and rules found their way into any version of the proposed amendments to the 2004 Gambling Act.
Better Luck Next Time, or the Time After That
In 2016, South Africa came close to passing and implementing a bill of amendments to the Gambling Act, but it wasn’t until November 2018 that a streamlined version of what was now called the National Gambling Amendment Bill (amending the 2004 Gambling Act) was passed. Unfortunately, it did not address online casinos, which meant that the original prohibition of “interactive gambling” remains in force.
Speaking of Reality Checks…
Luckily for South Africans, there are nearly 40 brick and mortar casinos located throughout the provinces. These casinos—often destination resorts highly attractive to tourism dollars—formed the Casino Association of South Africa (CASA) back in 2003, which quickly established itself as a source of information and guidance in all things related to gambling, including public policy regarding the same.
The National Gambling Board lists CASA among its primary “stakeholders,” right alongside the various provincial gambling boards themselves.
Incidentally, the brick and mortar casinos belonging to CASA employ more than 64,000 South Africans and generate as much as R18.2 billion in gross gambling revenues per year, which results in an estimated R5.9 billion in taxes, fees, with levies paid to South African governments at the local, provincial, and national levels.
The Future Ain’t as Bright as It Used to Be
South Africans waiting for their government to come to its senses about online gambling will probably have to wait a while longer. However, many observers have pointed out that few nations—South Africa among them—actually have the wherewithal or the expertise to monitor the countless transactions conducted on the Internet. Remember those 2,000 “illicit” casinos in the Bantu homeland despite a prohibition?
So while it remains illegal to gamble online in South Africa, dozens of online casinos continue to accept Rands for deposit, payout withdrawals in Rands, and accept new members from South African IPs.
The Internet truly is a wondrous place.
Many of the South Africa online casinos we visited offered optional downloadable software to use in conjunction with their games. In the instances we saw, the software was from Playtech or Realtime Gaming, industry leaders in online gaming.
If you visit an online casino that wants you to download software from a company you’ve never heard of, however, it’s a good idea to do some research before downloading and installing it.
Slots are decidedly strong at South African online casinos. You’ll find popular games from all the industry behemoths like Microgaming, Betsoft, Playtech, and Realtime Gaming. Many of the software providers even offer progressive pots on specific games that build as they are played by others in the casino (and sometimes, as the games are played at other casinos, as well).
Video poker is also well-represented at South African online casinos. You’ll find every variation of video poker, from Jacks or Better to Loose Deuces and beyond, as well as multihand versions of all the popular poker variations.
Blackjack, 3-card poker—you name it, South African online casinos have it. You’ll also find pontoon, pai gow poker, 3-card rummy, and even baccarat at some of the casinos.
Live Dealer Games
Surprisingly, live dealer tables are not well-represented among the South African online casinos we visited. Less than half offered any live dealer gambling at all. But those that did had some interesting choices among the standard offerings of roulette, sic bo, and baccarat—
Ever played 3-card brag? For money? Some South African online casinos are convinced you will. Since it plays similarly to 3-card poker, but the odds are slightly more in favor of the player, they might very well be right.
In any case, Playtech and Evolution Gaming run the show for the live dealer tables at most of the South African online casinos offering live tables.
Mobile gambling, on the other hand, is solidly represented. South African gamblers will find plenty of downloadable as well as instant play versions of many slots, video poker, and table games.
Keno tops the list with South African online casinos, but you’ll also find such oddities as Treasure Tree (we’d explain it, but we wouldn’t want to deprive you of the thrill of discovery), and Banana Jones, a Realtime Gaming offering that somehow successfully mixes elements of Donkey Kong and Yahtzee with Big Spin.
Unsurprisingly, banking deposits and withdrawals at South Africa online casinos are a mixture of the standard credit cards and bank wire transfers with the more modern Bitcoin, Neteller, and Skrill options.
Here’s a typical list of deposit options:
- Easy EFT
- SID instant EFT
With the exception of Visa and Mastercard, all of the above-listed methods of deposit are also withdrawal options at many of the South African online casinos. Bear in mind that while the money you withdraw will be instantly subtracted from your casino account, the time it actually takes for the withdrawal to appear in your target account will range from immediate (Easy EFT), to 24 hours (Bitcoin), all the way to seven business days (wire transfer).
Some online casinos offer welcome bonuses up to R37,500 (usually requiring multiple deposits). Some even offer no-deposit bonuses (generally in the R200- 300 range) for simply trying out their casino. Playthrough (rollover) on welcome bonuses are typically in the 30x bonus + deposit range.
Tip #1: Take advantage of any and all bonuses offered by your selected South African online casino. Start with any no-deposit bonuses and work your way up from there. Money is good, they say, and free money is better. Take the free money. You’re welcome.
Tip #2: South African online casino law is far from settled, and you should do everything within your means to avoid any unpleasant interactions with authorities. For instance, cryptocurrencies provide an excellent way to make all manner of purchases on the internet safely and securely, and e-wallets such as Skrill and Neteller offer an alternative to banks when it comes time to withdraw your winnings.
Tip #3: Keep up with South African gambling news. The online casino world changes minute by minute and South Africa is peculiarly prone to sudden changes in the legal (and political) weather.
Tip #4: Don’t fall for the first online casino that offers you a wink and a welcome bonus. Visit a few of them. Get to know what they have to offer, and how the site works. Most online casinos contract with software developers to provide their various gambling options and South African online casinos are no different.
But while a Playtech game may be the same from site to site, the terms and conditions offered by each casino can vary widely, as can the quality and functionality of the backend programming of the site. Additionally, many online casinos have certifications from various auditing organizations, but others do not.
Certifications should be important to gamblers, so look for them. These organizations validate or certify everything to do with the gambling world, from validating random number generation (RNG) algorithms to ensuring that banking options are legitimate and secure.
Make sure you play only with reputable South African online casinos that can prove they meet the standards of the various monitoring organizations.
Tip #5: Prohibition always has unintended consequences, which sometimes overwhelm any good intentions the prohibition might have represented. One unintended consequence to any prohibition is the immediate creation of a black market for the prohibited good or service. Any black market brings with it both sizeable profit and hidden dangers.
Perhaps not of physical violence, but fraud and theft are more likely in a black market—and since the victim (the gambler, in this instance) is participating in a pastime that may be legal a few miles away but is illegal where we’re standing right now, the authorities tend to be less than helpful in recovering lost or stolen funds.
All’s Well That Ends
South Africa is not the first nation to wrestle with the problem of gambling, online or off. Nor will it be the last. But it may turn out that it is also not the first nation to learn that the immovable object of prohibition is a meager and ineffective defense against the irresistible force that is the Internet.
So take our advice and—if you plan to gamble online in South Africa—plan and study carefully. Learn everything you can about banking options, and about licensing and certifications available to online casinos, as well.
And as you’re investigating your options, be sure to check out our list of top South African online casinos back at the beginning of this article.