When Was Gambling Legalised in South Africa?

In 2019, gambling revenue in South Africa reached a staggering R30 billion. That was up from R26.3 billion just three years earlier, suggesting that gambling of all kinds is not only alive and well in the country – it’s also growing at an incredible rate.

The gambling industry in South Africa comprises the National Lottery, sports betting, slot machines (including South Africa kingdom slots), bingo, and casinos. In fact, the casinos are so popular that they account for 72% of all industry revenue. The Lottery is also a firm favourite in South Africa, with an estimated 80% of the population buying a ticket at least once a week!

However, this hasn’t always been the case. The history of gambling in South Africa has been shaped by different laws and regulations stretching back to the 1600s. This post will explore these laws to answer the question: when was gambling legalised in South Africa?

The 1600s to the 1800s

As early as 1673, the first South African gambling laws were introduced. These were heavily restrictive, prohibiting gambling in all its forms. For over 100 years, these laws went largely unchallenged – but when the elite classes began to breed horses in the mid-1700s, it fuelled demand for competitive horse races, with bets places on the winners.

The country’s first officially recorded horse race took place at Green Point Common in Cape Town in 1797. Although betting on the outcome was technically still against the law, historians have widely assumed that a great number of the spectators placed illegal bets regardless. This no doubt contributed to the fact that betting on horse racing was legalised in the 1800s, making it the first – and, for over 150 years, the only – legal form of gambling in South Africa.

The Gambling Act of 1965

Although gambling laws all over the world started to relax towards the mid-to-late 1900s, South Africa’s Gambling Act of 1965 simply reinforced the earlier laws of 1673. The Act outlawed all forms of gambling, with the exception of betting on horseracing which was considered a type of sport.
However, it apparently failed to act as a serious deterrent. Between the 1970s and 1990s, as many as 2,000 illegal casinos began operating throughout South Africa. With illegal and underground gambling comes a range of problems. As well as being non-regulated, there is no way of the Government taxing the money generated by underground activity.

The National Gambling Act of 1996

In 1994, the 1965 Act was officially overturned and new laws legalised all forms of gambling. Just two years after the laws of 1994, the National Gambling Act of 1996 introduced regulations to control the licensing of casinos, including the establishment of the National Gambling Board.
The formation of the National Gambling Board allowed many of the problems that came with illegal gambling to be eradicated. As well as being able to tax gambling companies and winnings, the Government was able to regulate gambling, roll out uniform standards and distribute gambling licences.

The 1996 Act also created a single South African national lottery – the same one that’s been going on ever since.

2000 to the Present

In 2004, a second National Gambling Act overrode the Act of 1996. This outlawed the use of online casinos, which were rapidly growing in popularity. Subsequent laws went back and forth on this issue, culminating in the draft of the Remote Gambling Bill of 2014.

This bill attempted to introduce regulations and licensing to control online gambling. The topic has been debated ever since – but so far, no law has explicitly legalised accessing online casinos or other gambling services remotely.

From the laws of 1673 to the present day, the legalisation of gambling in South Africa has happened over time. Will online gambling soon be legal too?