Online Gambling Bill Spurs South African Debate

A bill to legalize online gambling in South Africa now before that country’s Parliament is spurring a stiff debate. Land-based casino revenue has stagnated in the country and many South Africans play online at illegal sites, despite the threat of stiff penalties.

A bill to legalize online gambling in South Africa has polarized debate in the country and brought out many opponents to the idea.

The debate comes as South Africans continue to gamble at illegal online sites and land-based casinos in the country are seeing stagnant revenue.

Parliament will consider a Remote Gambling Bill, which seeks to legalize and regulate online gambling. The bill was introduced by the political party the Democratic Alliance.

The country’s Department of Trade and Industry, however, in a joint press release with the National Gambling Board, strongly objected to the bill saying that online gambling is “not desirable” and maintaining that there was no support in Parliament to legalize online gambling.

Next up, the Casino Association of South Africa reported that South Africa’s casino industry grew only 0.6 percent in the 2013/ 2014 financial year compared to 10.4 percent the previous year. The association blames illegal online play for the fall off, noting that many South Africans aren’t even aware that such play is illegal.

Last year the gambling industry paid about R2.2-billion in taxes. Themba Ngobese, chief executive of the association, said that even if illegal sites were bringing in just five percent of the business that the legitimate gambling industry did, the government would lose R110-million in taxes.

“Government is losing money,” he said.

Meanwhile, the country has seen major growth in internet cafés and entertainment lounges, which is suspected of increasing online play.

“We know that there has been an exponential growth of these recently,” Ngobese said. “We have been observing these operations but we never got to grips with how big they are and we hadn’t realized just how many there are.

“We are not taking issue with online gambling necessarily. We have an issue with illegal online gambling,” said Ngobese. “It is unfair that we are competing with illegal online gambling operations when we have done all the investment in the industry. We can’t compete. If we did the same thing here the authorities would just shut us down.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry has focused on the perceived social ills of online gambling.

“There are a number of social ills associated with gambling, especially online gambling that occurs in unregulated and unsupervised locations,” the department said in a press release. “Other forms of gambling that are allowed in South Africa take place under strict supervision in locations that are designated for such activities. In our view, no amount of control will adequately curb the harm that may be caused to South African citizens by online gambling, hence we reiterate that it must remain a banned activity.”

Finally, Geordin Hill-Lewis, who brought the bill to Parliament, said it was not up to the department to decide on online gambling, but rather it was up to parliament.

“They can argue against it to the committee” he said. “But it is still very important to convince them the idea of banning online gambling is folly. I think we can find some sort of middle ground.”

Hill-Lewis said the bill would actually but control of online gambling back into the department’s jurisdiction.