Ever since the launch of the first online casino in 1994, technology has been at the forefront of the gambling industry. It’s changed the way we play games, the sort of games we play, and even the people we can play them with. Whether it’s social media sites, virtual reality, a YouTube video explaining how to play roulette, or even smart technologies working behind the scenes to optimise casino CCTV – technology has revolutionised almost every aspect of gambling.

As a result, the laws surrounding gambling have had to change rapidly to keep up. But how exactly has technology affected the gambling laws here in South Africa, a country which has historically placed severe restrictions on the legality of betting? Read this article to find out.

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Technology transcends jurisdictions

In 2011, South Africa’s gambling laws were put to the test when the online casino Piggs Peak Casino, powered by Microgaming, was accused of marketing its services to South African players. The law had strictly prohibited South Africans from partaking in any form of gambling – with the sole exception of betting on horseracing – since 2004, and an announcement from the North Gauteng High Court in 2010 aimed to reinforce this further by prohibiting international operators from offering gambling services to South African players.

During the court case, Piggs Peak Casino argued that because its base of operations was located in semi-autonomous Swaziland, it was technically allowed to market to South African residents. It lost its appeal.

The Piggs Peak incident demonstrates a key way in which technology has forced gambling laws to adapt. Online services, such as casinos and gambling sites, can be accessed by people from all over the world. While you can find a safe place to play here, they are a lot harder for individual jurisdictions to regulate, forcing countries such as South Africa to introduce laws that specifically ban the marketing of services to its residents.

Online gambling is harder to police

As the law currently stands, it’s legal to place an online sports bet with a licensed bookmaker in South Africa. It’s also legal to buy a lottery ticket – in fact, over 80% of South Africans are thought to buy a National Lottery Ticket at least once a week! Gambling in online casinos, however, is against the law under almost all circumstances, as long as you’re within the borders of the country.

Despite this, it’s been estimated that residents may be able to access as many as 2,000 online casino operations at any one time, purely thanks to technology. When the South African Gambling Board was suspended in 2014, due to ‘wasteful expenditure’, it sparked rumours that online gambling restrictions weren’t being strictly enforced – and caused many people to question how, considering the scale of the internet, they ever could be.

Growing pressure may force laws to change 

The current laws in South Africa may criminalise the majority of online gambling, but it could be that our hunger for new technology will change this in the near future. In November 2014, a draft of the Remote Gambling Bill aimed ‘to provide a legal basis for the regulation and control of all remote gambling activities’. Although it hasn’t yet been passed, it’s indicative of a growing movement to encourage the existing policies to change. After all, the popularity of the national lottery, as well as online sports betting, suggests that South Africa’s appetite for online casinos could be insatiable – if only the law would fully allow it.

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