For almost a decade now, industry observers have marvelled at South Africa’s remarkable procrastination on the legalisation of online gambling despite research studies, overseas fact-finding missions and political debate.
In the latest development, Geordin Hill-Lewis, a member of parliament and shadow minister in the opposition Democratic Alliance party has drafted a bill that seeks to repeal the 2008 National Gambling Act and legalise online gambling beyond the present limited permissions for sports betting.
Online gambling proponents fear that the delays in moving forward on online gambling have left South Africa trailing the trend in European nations toward legalisation and regulation, and more recent initiatives on legalisation in US states like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
The Hill-Lewis bill reportedly proposes that licenses for online gambling operators would be issued at provincial level (the country has ten provinces) and that even currently permitted operators of sports betting sites would be required to reapply.
Taxation would be at the discretion of the individual provinces, but there would be a national body to bring about the harmonisation of standards in order to ensure that provinces all operate on an equal footing.
Tax recommendations have yet to be finalised, with some sources suggesting that a 6 percent tax on gross gaming revenue would be acceptable, split 30 – 70 between the national and provincial governments. Application and registration fees are at this time unknown.
The bill envisages licensing for service companies as well as operators.
Tyrone Dubbin of Sportingbet SA, who has apparently seen the draft, said this week that it was a step forward in enabling operators to answer the demand of South African punters for a full suite of online gambling products beyond sports betting, to include casino games.
Regulation would help operators to provide a safe and secure gambling environment for local online gamblers, he opined.
The bill has a long run ahead in an often fractious political environment where the ruling African National Congress holds a strong majority.
If this measure makes it through the political gauntlet, work will have to start on assembling standards and regulatory requirements, which is likely to take some time and negotiation with provincial governments.
There have been some indications that the ruling party may at last be ready to move forward on legalisation; late last year trade and industry minister Rob Davies, who appears to be the national government’s point man on the issue, announced that a national regulator would be set up to oversee all aspects of gambling, including the online variety .