Gambling in South Africa has always been a controversial subject, with reformers wanting to open up the market in order to generate more revenue, and traditionalists keen to maintain the heavy restrictions that are currently in place. As a result, South Africa is one of a number of countries that has banned online gambling in the vast majority of its forms, leaving native players to find more innovative ways of accessing the wealth of online casinos that still allow them to register.
Despite a traditionally negative attitude towards gambling, the government took the bold step of repealing a blanket ban on all gambling activities in 1994, and introduced a comprehensive licencing system in the 1996 National Gambling Act. The Act allowed the National Gambling Board (NGB) to start regulating the industry, and also gave powers to South Africa's nine local provinces to start licencing both physical casinos and online sportsbooks. Further liberalisation took place with the 2004 National Gambling Act, although online casinos remained illegal.
Whilst the new laws opened up a range of sports betting and other opportunities for physical casinos, the same could not be said for online providers - the only form of online gambling activity legal in South Africa is sports betting, and any online sportsbooks must be licenced by one of the provinces. An amendment announced in 2008 to completely legalise online gambling was passed but never enacted, leaving casino lovers in a tricky position.
The situation became even less clear in 2010, after the courts ruled that it was illegal for online casinos that are based outside of South Africa's borders to offer services to the country's citizens. As it stands, it is currently illegal for anyone with a South African IP address to gamble online, with the exception of the licenced operators that are regulated, controlled and taxed by the NGB and local provinces.
Any casino, individual or bank that facilitates online gambling faces a stiff penalty of up to 10 million Rand, 10 years in prison or both, but with the vast majority of providers sitting outside the nation's borders, these penalties are extremely rare. Anyone who is caught making a profit is forced to transfer the cash to a treasury trust account, which currently holds more than 3.5 million Rand.
Whilst online gambling is certainly illegal, that hasn't stopped a number of savvy online casinos from opening up their services to South African customers, with the likes of 888 and Mr Green all welcoming players with open arms. The number of gamblers in the country is also rising, and there are dozens of popular markets for enthusiasts to choose from.
In terms of legal gambling, the national lottery is by far the most popular game with the local population - the latest available research showed that more than 80% of the population buys a ticket each week.
Sports betting is also incredibly popular, with horse racing, rugby and football all attracting hundreds of thousands of gamblers each year. Golf is also building up a sizeable following throughout the country, with the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els all flying the South African flag and boosting the number of fans. Other popular local betting markets include the quintessentially Afrikaan sport of Jukskei, although this has yet to make its way to more mainstream sites.
As the world's nations search for more ways to generate money, South Africa's strong anti-online gambling laws are looking likely to change. The government recently raised taxes on land-based casinos, and ministers are starting to consider the potential for additional revenue if online gambling was legalised and regulated in the same controlled way.
The 2008 amendment is still very much alive, and whilst it will be difficult to attract unanimous support, some are hoping to revive efforts to see it enacted over the next few years. Until then, South Africans looking to take part in any other gambling activity other than sports betting are still being welcomed by 888 and MrGreen, meaning there are still plenty of opportunities to experience the best online casinos.