Officials in South Africa have introduced a sweeping set of proposals that would ban online poker and all other forms of Internet gambling in the country. Those rules have been suggested by the Department of Trade and Industry, and are currently being discussed with the National Gambling Policy Council, which features both national and provincial representatives.
The online poker ban would be part of a much wider range of gambling regulations, which would also include a prohibition on dog racing and new forms of gambling that aren’t currently legal in the country, as well as stronger regulations on electronic bingo terminals and horse racing.
According to Trade and Industry deputy director-general Zodwa Ntuli, the proposal to ban online poker is based on the government’s desire to limit gambling in the country to just the traditional forms that are already in existence there. Ntuli also said that her department recognized the fact that South Africa has a high rate of problem gambling and personal debt, which influenced the group’s decision-making.
But while Ntuli and others are pushing for a full-scale online gambling ban, other public officials aren’t sure that’s the way to go. Lawmakers in the Democratic Alliance, the opposition party, have strongly opposed such a ban, saying that a policy of regulation is a better way to protect South Africans from the dangers of gambling.
“That is a very, very bad decision,” said DA trade and industry spokesperson Geordin Hill-Lewis about the policy recommendation. “I fiercely disagree with that view. It is completely shortsighted to say that it is better for South Africans not to be allowed to gamble online when there is patently significant demand in the country to do that. It is for government to facilitate that in the safest way possible.”
In South Africa, gambling issues are regulated using a similar framework to that of the United States and some other nations, in which the federal government sets broad policies, but it is up to individual states or provinces to issue licenses and craft specific regulations. Ntuli conceded that this meant there were conflicting interests between provincial governments that wanted to use gambling as a revenue source and the federal government.
This could show itself most dramatically in a battle over the future of electronic bingo machines. Provincial governments have been licensing the terminals, despite the fact that there is no national policy on the games as of yet.
The federal government now wants to limit the number of machines allowed nationwide, and would also like to restrict where they can be placed in order to keep gambling out of areas like shopping malls. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has already placed a moratorium on issuing licenses for the machines for the time being.
In the world of online poker, South Africa is considered a gray market jurisdiction at the moment, as there is no regulatory framework, but also no outright ban (though that would change if the new recommendations were put into law). While PokerStars and Full Tilt recently exited a host of gray markets, South Africa was reportedly not among these, perhaps owing to the fact that it is home to a larger player base than many of the African, Asian and Middle Eastern nations abandoned by the Amaya Gaming-owned sites.