Gambling is a popular and sometimes controversial activity all over the world. Gambling has been around in various forms for thousands of years. There is evidence of gambling in China thousands of years BC and it is believed that Kings in ancient India used to play a dice game to win valuable objects as far back as 300BC.

In South Africa, like many countries, gambling has gone through an interesting history of being allowed and then banned at various points over the years. At one point there was no gambling allowed in South Africa at any time.

Online gambling is much harder to regulate and enforce so this makes it easier for players to indulge in betting. By placing servers outside of the country online casinos can operate happily and attract South African citizens to play online. Gambling in South Africa is big business so what types of activities are legal in SA?

Regulated and legal casinos

Luck based gambling was banned before 1996. The only form of gambling allowed was horse racing as it was deemed that there was an element of skill in choosing potential winners. In many other countries horse racing is still the only accepted form of gambling. In Thailand for instance only the state lottery and racing events are permitted forms of gambling.

In 1996 though the National Gambling Act was brought in. This new legislation enabled the legalisation and regulation of many more forms of gambling. This allowed the National Gambling Association to be formed.

This new act allowed each separate province in South Africa to decide on their own gambling legislation and define what was acceptable and what was not. The new legislation set a limit on how many casinos could be opened across the country and how many each province was allowed.

Casinos in South Africa before 1996

Before this act was brought in there were already casinos operating legally within South Africa. These were however in the TBVC states. These independent states were independent homelands set aside by the white National Party administration of South Africa for black inhabitants. They were not recognised as independent outside of South Africa and they rejoined South Africa after apartheid was abolished. The casinos carried on for a while until the new legislation allowed them to continue operating legally.

Illegal gambling

Like all countries around the world there was a market for illegal gambling before the new gambling act was brought in. It was clear that the government could be making money from gambling tax if they legalised the activity and reduced the underground market. Also the illegal market had no regulation so it was unclear if machines or games were being run fairly.

Online gambling

Each province in South Africa has its own gambling and racing board. If a bookmaker wants to offer betting online then they must apply for a licence from their local board.

The National Gambling Act of 2004 prohibited any online interactive gambling services which specifically prohibited casino games like poker and bingo. As mentioned above online sports betting is ok as long as the necessary license is in place.

In 2010 all interactive gambling was banned in South Africa. Normally companies can use a loophole to get around this by placing their servers outside of the country. However South African law states that accessing these sites is illegal and has enforced this by targeting various establishments to stop the activity. There is a possible prison sentence of 10 years or R10 million fine internet service providers and banks that process online payments for gambling along with casino sites and individuals.

Casinos today

There are 41 licenses available for casinos in South Africa and there are currently 39 casinos operating. These licenses need to be renewed periodically to maintain standards and laws are being met. They operate all across South Africa in metropolitan areas. The largest being the Rio Casino Resortin Klerksdorp is the largest in the whole of Africa and the fifth biggest in the world. Casinos in South Africa today are resorts where a family can visit for a holiday and not just for one night of gaming.

If you were visiting South Africa it would be possible to go to Sun City and not only enjoy the hotel and resort but go on safari in the daytime to see the big five. In the night dine in a fine restaurant and then play poker, baccarat or pharaos riches in the gaming rooms.

National lottery in South Africa

Like many countries South Africa has a national lottery. This has been around since 2000 and brings in revenue to the government and offers players over the age of 18 a chance to win a daily prize of R10,000. The biggest win so far was R232,131,750.69.

Foreigners gambling in South Africa

If you were on holiday in South Africa and wanted to gamble you would be subject to the same laws as its citizens are. You are free to visit legal casinos and gamble and you can enter the state lottery. You are not permitted to play online casino games although the likelihood of being caught would be minimal and you would likely be using a foreign bank to make payments instead of a SA institute.


Although the future of online interactive games remains unclear even after the 2014 amendment to the gambling act it is likely that one day the government will seek to legalise this area. It remains a huge untapped market for taxation and raising funds. People can use VPNs to get around the legislation so it makes no sense to outlaw this area while still allowing online sports betting and other forms of gamblling.

The casinos are here to stay although it remains to be seen whether the amount of licenses granted will increase past 41 or if they will keep to a strict limit. The lottery remains popular and accessible and by limiting the amount of venues for gambling South Africa has managed to avoid many pitfalls that countries like the UK have.

In the UK gaming machines are extremely common with nearly every pub having at least one. Bookmakers have slots and blackjack games for gambling. High street arcades have slot machines. South Africa has sought to contain the venues where people can gamble to reduce any of the anti social elements such as addiction.

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