The prolonged national issue of whether the South African government is to regulate and licence online gambling or not, took an unexpected turn this week when the provincial Gauteng Gambling Board made a point of warning the media that the pastime is currently illegal.
Despite many years of investigatory commissions and parliamentary debate, the national government continues to procrastinate on the regulatory issue, with no immediate changes to the law yet promulgated.
The Gauteng provincial gambling authorities appear to have seized the initiative at provincial level following a North Gauteng High Court judgement on the jurisdiction of online gambling transactions in the country which was handed down on August 20th by Judge N.B. Tuchten.
The effect of the decision means both domestic Internet operators who offer online gambling to South African residents for gain, and a player who takes part in online betting, are guilty of breaking the law.
The Business Times newspaper reports that the ruling also makes internet service providers accountable for the services and targets banned, and forbids financial institutions to process payments in respect of betting transactions.
The Gauteng Gambling Board says it will pursue any person or organisation which contravenes the gambling legislation.
Persons who are prosecuted and found guilty of offences under the Act could receive a fine of Rands 10 million or ten years in jail or both.
According to Gauteng Gambling Board head of legal services, Lucky Lukhwareni, online casinos are now up for prosecution.
"That's why we approached the media to alert them of the judgment which makes online casino operations illegal, and if they continue we will have them arrested and fight for conviction," he told Business Day.
He added that those entities that advertise or facilitate the advertisement of online gambling - including radio and television stations, print media and outdoor advertising agencies - will also face the prosecution.
Judge Tuchten's decision is believed to be the result of a long-running case in which the operators of the Swaziland-based online casino Piggs Peak Online challenged the jurisdictional authority of South Africa, claiming its presence and physical facilities were in a neighbouring country. Local media have yet to contact the company for its reaction to the ruling.
Thus far the national government has remained silent on the provincial action, although legalisation and regulation are still apparently on the legislative table.
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