South Africa’s National Gambling Board has responded to the question of the legality of online gambling in the country. The authority has admitted that this question is “the subject of debate in some circles”, but has stated irrevocably that only online sports betting is allowed by law.
The questions came to light after a number of major land-based operators such as Sun International and Tsogo Sun started pushing for the expansion of their services to include online betting options, as they struggle to find ways to offset the financial damage caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
“NGB wishes to make it emphatically clear that the answer to whether online or interactive gambling is legal in South Africa, is a simple and unequivocal NO with the exception of online sports betting,” said the authority in a statement. The NGB pointed to section 11 of South Africa’s Gambling Act (“unauthorized interactive gaming unlawful”) which clearly states that “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.”
“As the Amendment Act prescribes that it will only come into effect on a future date to be fixed by the President, by proclamation in the Gazette, and the President has never done so, the Amendment Act thus cannot be relied upon or referenced as being the law regarding the regulation of interactive gaming or online gambling,” wrote the NGB. “The National Gambling Act of 2004 remains the supreme national regulatory prescript for regulating the gambling industry in the Republic of South Africa, and in terms thereof, interactive gambling, as envisaged in the Amendment Act of 2008, remains prohibited.”
Sun International is part of one of the hardest-hit South African industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group reported a 56.2% year on year decline in revenue for the first part of the year. The majority of its properties were forced to close in the middle of the first quarter of 2020, and revenue for the first six months of the year until June 30th fell to R3.71 billion. Sun International is now being forced to retrench up to 2,300 workers at its Sun City, Maslow Sandton, Boardwalk, Table Bay and Wild Coast properties.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the gaming and hospitality sector particularly hard and forced us to make some tough choices to protect the business and to as far as possible limit the impact on employment,” said chief executive Anthony Leeming. One of the ways that Sun International hopes to fight further losses is to spread some of its activities online. The group is pushing the South African Department of Trade and Industry to allow land-based casinos to be granted licenses to offer online casino games. Sun International’s online sports betting SunBet brand started offering draw-based games in July this year and the group said that they will be followed up by live dealer titles.
Tsogo Sun is another group that is looking beyond its traditional land-based casino options. In June this year, CEO Chris du Toit revealed that the company was at “an advanced stage “ of moving into online sports betting. He also said that online casino gaming was a “natural progression” for the business.