Betting in South Africa

Before the late 20th century, gambling was prohibited throughout South Africa. In fact, heavy restrictions had been in place since 1673, and a total ban was put into effect in 1965, with the sole exception of horse racing.

During the 1970s, a limited number of casinos were built in special zones called Homelands—areas where native South Africans lived—although gambling there was open primarily to foreign passport holders and not to most citizens.

Suppression, of course, caused numerous illegal operations to thrive. By one estimate, as many as 80% of all South African adults gambled and the majority of them did so regularly.

Then, in 1994, the nation’s democratically elected post-apartheid government voted to legalise all forms of betting activities. This shift occurred with the understanding that licensing, regulation and control was the modern way forward.

One of the first steps was to create a national lottery as a source of government funding. The initial ticket offering was made on the morning of 2nd March 2000, with a highly publicised live drawing conducted nine days afterwards. Now, the nationwide lottery system includes four versions: LOTTO, LOTTO Plus, Wina Manje (scratchcard) and SportStake (a sports lottery).

In 2004, the National Gambling Board was established in accordance with the National Gambling Act. As the Homelands were incorporated into the rest of the country, their casinos were opened to all South Africans, as were sports betting shops, poker rooms and live bingo halls.

One report indicates there are at least 36 major gaming venues around South Africa now, of which three are in Johannesburg. Of special note, Sun International, the founder of the famed Sun City Resort Complex in the Northwest, has grown to become one of the world’s leading operators of casinos. Its gaming locations include the GrandWest Casino in Cape Town, Boardwalk Casino & Entertainment World in Summerstrand, Carnival City in Brakpan and the Carousel Casino in Hammanskraal, to name just a few.

Today, South Africa is home to at least a dozen horseracing tracks, including two each in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, plus the Newmarket Racecourse in Johannesburg. A recent count puts the number of bookmaking outlets in South Africa at over 300, and there are an additional 400 shops offering totalisator betting.

In 2010, a year in which the South African economy was suffering from recession, nationwide gambling revenues were up 2.14%—an indication of just how popular this activity has become. To claim its share of the action, in 2011 the Finance Ministry announced a 15% withholding tax on gambling winnings of over 25,000 Rand.

Despite the boom, some elements in South Africa have remained opposed to legal gambling and worked to outlaw its spread online. In 2010, South African courts upheld legislation that banned Internet gambling completely, including online poker and sportsbooks. However, just a year later, no fewer than 469 sports betting sites were still accepting play from South Africa.

Although no web sites currently support wagering in the Afrikaans language, major bookmakers such as Paddy Power, William Hill, Unibet, Expekt, BetFred, Bet365 and Part Bets are more than happy to provide markets in English to customers with South African addresses. Some, including Ladbrokes operating out of Gibraltar and the JetBull Sportsbook based in Malta, will even accept financial transactions in Rand.