Still to be Settled

21 March 2008

South Africa's National Gambling Amendment Bill of 2006, which has remained before the country's upper house since September 2007, has recently been amended by a council committee. But experts are not sure whether the bill's strict I-gaming advertising provisions -- an issue of concern for operators looking to enter the country -- have been loosened.

On March 12, the bill was sent to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Select Committee on Economic and Foreign Affairs, where it has received serious consideration by the provincial delegations.

Wayne Lurie, a South African attorney specializing in commercial, Internet and Internet gaming-related law, confirmed with IGN that the committee has amended the bill, but was not privy to the content of the amendments.

The bill, introduced to Parliament in December 2006 by the Department of Trade and Industry, is designed to amend the National Gambling Act of 2004 to license and regulate remote gambling in South Africa.

The bill was approved by the National Assembly (NA), the lower house of Parliament, in September 2007 and was sent to the NCOP where it has remained for the last six months.

During that time, lawmakers have grappled over the issue of advertisement -- whether to allow Internet gambling operators to advertise their services in the country. In its current form, the bill, in Section 15 (3A), criminalizes the advertisement of any interactive gambling service.

While nothing has been publicly released about what agreements have been reached, according to the minutes of the Jan. 31, 2008 committee meeting, the committee had discussed whether it was prudent to impose a blanket ban of gambling advertising, as opposed to a selective ban based on the type of gambling.

Johan Strydom, Senior Legal Advisor, Department of Trade and Industry, said at the meeting: "The essence was that the advertising of other forms of gambling was a vested right guaranteed by the principal Act. The idea was to be fair and equitable."

He also noted that an overall prohibition on gambling advertising should be considered as opposed to discriminating only on certain types of gambling activities.

On the other hand, Dumisani Gamede, member of the African National Congress, said that prohibiting advertising was discriminatory, suggesting it would be prudent to open a discussion on how best to control interactive gambling advertising.

Since the NCOP committee has made amendments to the bill, it must be returned to the NA for reconsideration; and if the NA approves the amended version, it goes to South African President Thabo Mbeki for assent.

On the other hand, if the NA rejects the amendments, the bill will be sent to a special mediation committee comprising members of both the NA and NCOP.

If no agreement can be reached on the bill, it dies.

Best case scenario, Lurie said, is that the bill passes in some form and receives presidential approval. Even if Mbeki signs off, however, South Africa is still looking at a long implementation period, he added.

Lurie said it would be two to three months before the bill is sent back to the NA, where it would likely remain "for a couple of months" before receiving NA approval.

In the most favorable situation, the regulations could be in effect by 2009, but the bill still faces a complex series of legislative hurdles that are likely to slow the process.

"If I were an operator, I wouldn't expect a license until the end of 2009," Lurie said.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.