Are the South Africans having second thoughts?

The South African gambling industry, said to be worth in total some SAR15.6 billion in the year to March, could be the subject of yet another government enquiry according to an IOL report this week which indicates that the government thinks controls on the industry might have been too liberal in the 12 years since gambling was legalised in South Africa, and is considering the appointment of another commission.

It has taken years to reach a situation where online gambling in the Southern African powerhouse state is to be licensed and regulated following extensive research by a SA Gambling Board appointed team.

The IOL report mentions the possibility of a new government probe in the context of a recent statement from the UK mobile gambling firm Probability plc (see previous InfoPowa report) in which CEO Charles Cohen revealed that his company is to broaden its business internationally.

Among those countries which Probability has in mind is South Africa, with plans apparently well developed to commence services as early as March 2009. Cohen has described the South African market as "...really exciting with one of the highest cellphone internet [penetrations] in the world, which is why we are looking at the market". South Africa has more than 34 million cellphone subscribers.

Cohen said the company had had "initial contacts with several networks", but would not provide details, but said that Sweden and Italy were two other markets in which his company was interested. These countries had similar sized cellphone markets as South Africa, as well as receptive regulatory standards, he said.

Cohen told IOL that Probability execs were still studying the South African legislation. The bill paved the way for new online or interactive gambling services, but companies would have to apply for licences to offer the services. Probability would look for local partnerships, depending on regulations.

"We have an open mind on this," Cohen told the newspaper group. "It will depend a lot on the regulatory environment."

Probability would provide a similar range of games to the South African market to those it offered in the UK - all the casino classics, such as roulette, bingo and blackjack, with regular new game launches.

Cohen said the company was uniquely positioned to "take advantage of consumer fatigue with online gaming, boredom with the lottery, and the often uninspiring and overpriced traditional cellphone games on offer today".

IOL recaps the news that Probability's plan to enter the local market follows those of Vienna-based Bwin Interactive Entertainment and British sports betting group Victor Chandler International, which earlier this year indicated their interest in expanding into South Africa (see previous InfoPowa reports).

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