If there is one thing that the public and business world should be able to rely on in any country, it is clear and concise laws and legislation. These expectations of government give the citizens of a nation a clear-cut understanding of what they can and can’t do. There is, and always will be, a measure of safety when boundaries and parameters are clearly marked out.
But what happens when the lines of legislation become blurred? It sets up an environment of confusion and uncertainty, which is more uncomfortable to negotiate. Such is the problem for online betting businesses and gamblers in South Africa; a country where it has seemingly been illegal to gamble online (except for sports betting) since the institution of the National Gambling Act of 2004.
Yet, many licensed sportsbooks in the country are currently offering live casino games to their customers and many are not sure why.
This was one of the subjects on the table at the latest SBC Digital Africa conference. The agenda for the event, entitled Live Casino: The Path to Regulation, received attendance by various industry professionals, including Lee Zama (tourism consultant), Sean Coleman (CEO of South African Bookmakers Association), Dean Finder (Evolution Services SA), and Quinn Olive (Director of Marketing for SuperSeven). William Bolton, a reporter for Gaming Publishing, moderated the proceedings.
The South African Situation
At the moment, gambling regulation is a mixed bag across the nation. Each of the 9 provinces forms its own gambling jurisdiction and governs the market based on its own interpretation of the laws set out at a national level.
The SA legislation is so broad, that two different jurisdictions can have two very distinct opinions about the same laws. Gary Coleman of the South African Bookmaking Association had this to say:
"We have different decisions in different provinces which makes an operator, certainly on a national basis who may have footprints across the country, only being able to offer certain products to certain jurisdictions or change their websites or web skins in certain jurisdictions because it’s allowed in one certain province and not another."
The fact that live gaming is available in certain regions, like the Western Cape, and not in others, is because there is no consistency of oversight across the country. This makes it extremely difficult for national operators to ply their trade and target their market effectively. It also leaves players in a state of limbo as to their rights.
Some of the more liberal regulators have stepped out with boldness to allow bookmakers to offer casino games, as long as betting is made on fixed odds and is not subject to RNG/chance interventions, like those we find with slot games. This has led to the introduction of live roulette and other table games to South African online gamblers.
Even international operators looking to engage in the South African market are struggling for clarity about what is allowed and what isn’t. Quinn Olive of SuperSeven voiced his views on the evident conundrum:
"For us looking in, I think there is a massive level of inconsistency across the multiple provinces on what can and can’t be bet on, and to what extent a product can be offered.
I’m looking in from the UK and I find it quite difficult to understand where that line is between a live casino product and an event where you bet on the outcome against an RNG driven event that is clicked and activated by a punter."
It is now necessary for the offices of power to bring consistent regulation to this market. It is evident that the market has progressed too far to cut out Live Casino gaming altogether, as it now provides a much-needed steady income stream for the economy.
Where to from Here?
The only workable solution would entail the National Gambling Board sitting with operators and regional offices to bring decisions around online gambling of this type to a head. While the National regulator did invite a response from the industry in 2019, there has been no perceived feedback or movement towards a resolution at all.
While the South African government has been preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic disaster, urgent policing of the industry is seriously needed to benefit both players and legal operators in the country before things get out of hand. It is no longer acceptable that regional regulators use loopholes in the law to serve the industry. A concise blueprint for the market is imminently necessary.
Other online gambling countries, such as Sweden, the UK, and Spain, have tightened their laws because of the elevated risks associated with the pandemic and increased online traffic – it’s time that South Africa follows suit.