The answer to the question does South Africa have a gambling problem is both yes and no.
Yes, South Africa has its share of problem gamblers, i.e. gamblers that suffer from addiction issues and who as a result gamble with funds they can ill-afford to lose. And no, statistically South Africa has no more problem gamblers than any other gambling-friendly country, and in fact has one of the world’s most liberalised and regulated land gambling industries.
South Africa has come a long way since 1994, when it had just one casino – Sun City – in what was then Bophuthatswana, now North West Province. After the fall of Apartheid, the new regime recognised the benefits of a legalised and regulated gambling industry, one of the most important of which was to generate much-needed taxes from gambling revenues.
South Africa Has 38 Land Casinos
Since the casino and gambling industry has grown exponentially and today South Africa has 38 licensed and regulated land casinos spanning the nation as well as approximately 440 totalisator outlets (totes) and 450 bookmakers, as reported by the National Gambling Board (NGB).
According to the National Gambling Statistics for the Financial Year 2016 published by the NGB, in that year the South African government generated just over R2.7 billion in total gambling taxes / levies across all regulated sectors that include the casino, limited pay-out machine (LPM), horse racing, sports betting, bingo and the lottery sectors.
Unfortunately, along with the increasing popularity of gambling in South Africa, there has also been a considerable rise in problem gambling, but this is to be expected.
As is the case in most nations that have regulated gambling industries, while the majority of gamblers are able to gamble responsibly i.e. in moderation and within their means, there is and will always be a percentage of the population who struggle to do so, and it these people that are classed as problem gamblers.
This type of gambling fan becomes obsessed with one or more casino games, from blackjack roulette, baccarat to craps, and video poker to the most popular casino game of all slots, which are still as popular as ever at casinos across South Africa and beyond.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression Can Cause Addiction
As studies on addiction have revealed over the years, certain people are more predisposed to become overly reliant, indeed compulsive, about a certain thing to the point where it interferes with and even disrupts their regular schedules and responsibilities, and in the process affects their relationships, work commitments and health.
Some of the most common addiction ‘triggers’ are thought to include stress, anxiety and depression, and gambling addiction, as with most addictions, typically manifests itself in three main ways:
One, it causes a gambler to constantly think about i.e. crave gambling, two, it causes them to lose control of their gambling sessions and budgets, and three, its causes them to gamble uncontrollably, despite being aware of the harm or damage this is causing them personally, professionally as well as to their relationships.
Gambling Addiction Can Be Successfully Treated
While there is no magic cure for addiction, addicts can be successfully treated. This usually begins with them acknowledging that they have a problem, then actively seeking out help, assistance or support, and refraining from gambling of any kind whatsoever.
The treatment of any addiction, however, is considered to be a lifelong endeavour as most experts consider addiction to be a chronic and – if left untreated – progressive condition that can lead to multiple relapses.
The billion rand question, of course, is what the South African government, as well as the country’s respective casino groups, are actively doing to combat gambling addiction?
When it comes to the government, it has spearheaded a few gambling organisations that are specially designed to assist and advise problem gamblers, the most prominent and respected of these being the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF).
The South African Responsible Gambling Foundation
The South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF) was launched as a non-profit organisation in conjunction with the South African government in 2000 to address problem gambling in South Africa.
It is funded by public grants earmarked for responsible gambling programmes, interventions and projects on a provincial basis, as well as by the South African casino, betting, bingo and LPM industries.
That said the SARGF is a 100% non-profit organisation solely dedicated to the prevention of problem gambling in South Africa. (According to SARGF, 3% of South Africans are currently considered to be problem gamblers).
To date SARGF has reportedly aided more than 16,000 problem gamblers in South Africa through its effective counselling and treatment programmes, problem gambling research initiatives, and public awareness and education prevention campaigns.
Problem gamblers (or family members, friends or colleagues thereof) can take the self-check quiz on South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF) website and contact them 24/7 on their confidential and toll-free helpline 0800 006 008.
Self-Exclusion Programmes at a Casino Level
From a South African land casino perspective, the mainland casino groups that own and operate casinos in South Africa – Sun International, Tsogo Sun and Peermont Global – each has comprehensive self-exclusion programmes across their casinos.
These programmes can be accessed by any South African gambler, 18 or older. (Read more about self-exclusion on the Gauteng Gambling Board (GGB) website).
As its name suggests, a self-exclusion programme gives casino players the opportunity to exclude themselves from playing at a selected casino or all casinos in their Province, or all casinos nationally that are owned by the respective gambling company.
The way it works is that players who have a gambling problem or feel they are developing one must simply visit the respective casino’s security office in person, where they will be assisted discreetly and professionally.
Self-Exclusion Available Per Casino, Provincially or Nationally
There, they’ll be required to fill out the applicable self- exclusion documentation which gives the casino permission to prevent or exclude them from accessing its gambling areas and games on a per casino, provincial or national basis.
These documents are usually available free of charge and are quick and easy to complete. As part of the self-exclusion process, a photo is normally taken of every applicant to help casino staff identify them if they return to the casino
Once their application is completed, the player is provided with a copy of their self-exclusion documents for their records. Thereafter, and based on the type of exclusion they requested – individual casino, provincial or national – the casino group sends the exclusion requests to the applicable parties.
As soon as these requests have been received and loaded on the system, the applicable casino(s) contact the player to inform them that their self-exclusion has been set up and is in effect with immediate effect.
The Minimum Self-Exclusion Period is 6 months
The minimum South African gambling self-exclusion period is typically 6 months, although after that period the self-exclusion does not automatically fall away or expire. Players that want to lift their exclusion from a certain casino can only do so in person at the respective casino’s security office.
In the case of a provincial or national exclusion, they are required to fill out the documentation at the security office of any casino in the group which will be dealt with in due course.
It should be noted that a self-exclusion notice reversal or cancellation is not guaranteed, as it is always subject to approval and the discretion of the casino and /or the parent group.
Factors that can influence this include whether at any point during a player’s self-exclusion period they attempted to enter and/or gamble at any of the ‘off limits’ casinos.
Self-Excluded Players Who Gamble Risk Criminal Charges
In addition, any self-excluded player caught gambling at a participating casino will have their playing funds and/or winnings confiscated and may be subject to arrest and criminal charges related to trespassing as per the terms and conditions laid out in the self-exclusion agreements they signed.
While these measures may seem extreme, they are absolutely necessary for the success of self-exclusion programmes which are designed on a foundation of ‘zero tolerance.’
South African gambling fans that opt for self-exclusion are made to understand during the application process that exclusion means just that – they are 100% excluded from the casino’s gambling facilities, and that they face serious consequences if they flout that.