Underage Gambling in South Africa

Underage gambling refers to the participation in gambling activities by individuals below the legal age threshold set by jurisdictional laws. This age limit varies globally, but in South Africa the minimum national gambling age is 18.

Underage gambling includes all forms of betting, including traditional casino games, sports wagering, lotteries, and online platforms.

Underage gambling

The State Of Underage Gambling In South Africa

In South Africa, the importance of addressing underage gambling cannot be overstated. It is a noteworthy issue, given the prevalence and popularity of gambling activities among the general population. Approximately 10% of South Africa's population engages in some form of regular gambling, with the National Lottery being the most popular. 

However, there is also a growing interest in sports betting and casino gaming. The country's gambling industry, including both land-based and online platforms, has seen significant growth, with total gambling revenue reaching around R34 billion in the financial year 2021-2022, marking a 48% increase from the previous year.

The country has a well-established gambling industry, with stringent laws governing legal participation. However, despite these regulations, there remains a significant challenge in curbing the access and appeal of gambling to the youth. 

The South African Responsible Gambling Foundation's research in 2014, analyzing calls received from individuals aged 18 to 35, revealed that a significant percentage of these calls were from young males, highlighting a gender disparity in gambling behaviors. Additionally, the majority of these young callers were in full-time employment, suggesting that gambling issues are not confined to the unemployed youth.

Online gambling, in particular, poses a unique challenge. It has been easy for minors to access online gambling platforms due to the simplicity of depositing money and the familiarity with the online format. This ease of access, combined with a lack of adequate protective measures, has led to cases where young individuals have fallen into cycles of addiction, spending substantial amounts of money, and experiencing significant personal consequences.

The all-consuming nature of online gambling addiction can impact an individual's ability to maintain employment and personal relationships. The psychological implications of this addiction are significant, often requiring a comprehensive support system that includes family awareness and understanding, as well as professional intervention.

Regulations and industry oversight are crucial in addressing the issue of underage and problematic gambling. However, the ease with which minors can access online gambling sites, often by merely checking a box to confirm age, presents a challenge in effectively safeguarding against underage gambling. The industry's tactics, such as offering free credit upon sign-up and zero-rating data usage for gambling sites, can further entice young people into gambling platforms.

Effects Of Gambling On South Africa’s Youth

Focusing on underage gambling in South Africa is crucial due to its potential to become a gateway to other forms of illegal or detrimental behaviour, its impact on the mental health of the youth, and its contribution to the cycle of poverty in already disadvantaged communities. 

One of the key factors contributing to the prevalence of underage gambling is the rapid growth of the gambling industry in Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa. Young people, often facing high levels of unemployment and low wages, are increasingly drawn to gambling as an alternative means of income, despite the risks involved. This susceptibility to risk-taking, coupled with a lack of awareness about the potential harmful effects of gambling, can lead to the development of gambling disorders.

The implications of underage gambling are multifaceted, affecting not only the individuals involved but also their families and the wider community. It poses risks of developing gambling addictions at a young age, leading to financial, social, and psychological problems.

Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach, encompassing stricter enforcement of existing laws, education, and awareness campaigns targeted at young people and their guardians, and support systems for those affected. Recognizing the significance of underage gambling is the first step towards mitigating its impact and protecting the well-being of the country's youth.

What Are The Underage Gambling Laws?

The legal framework governing gambling in South Africa is primarily dictated by the National Gambling Act of 2004. This comprehensive legislation covers all forms of gambling, including both land-based and online platforms. The National Gambling Board, established under this Act, is responsible for overseeing, policing, and licensing gaming services throughout the nation. 

One of the crucial aspects of this legal framework is the age restriction for legal gambling, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to engage in any form of gambling. This prohibition applies to all types of gambling, including online activities. This law aims to protect minors from the potential harms associated with gambling.

The regulations are strict regarding under-age gambling. Minors are not allowed to:

  • enter areas of a casino where gambling occurs

  • operate a gambling machine

  • falsely claim to be 18 or older to access gambling areas. 

Advertising gambling activities in a way that targets or attracts minors is also unlawful. Importantly, gambling debts incurred by minors are not enforceable under South African law, and it is illegal to pay out gambling winnings to a minor.

To enforce these regulations, employees at gambling establishments are required to request identification from anyone who appears to be under the age of 18. If a person is found to be underage, they will be asked to leave the gambling area. If an adult is found with a minor on the casino floor, they will be directed to non-gambling areas and may face further action.

Gambling Accessibility On Mobile Devices

Underage gambling in South Africa has emerged as a significant concern due to its accessibility on mobile phones and the rising popularity of online betting platforms. The digital era has made gambling more accessible to the youth, offering both convenience and a degree of anonymity that traditional gambling venues cannot. 

Studies across various countries have shown a worrying trend of increasing gambling activities among minors, which is often correlated with advertisements, peer influence, and the glamourization of gambling in media.

Causes of Underage Gambling

The causes of underage gambling are multifaceted, encompassing various social, economic, and psychological factors:

1. Accessibility of Gambling Platforms:

  • The rise of online gambling platforms has significantly increased accessibility. With the internet, underage individuals can easily access gambling sites, often with little to no age verification.

  • Mobile technology further enhances accessibility, allowing young people to gamble discreetly on smartphones.

  • The prevalence of free-to-play or 'demo' gambling games can also act as a gateway to real gambling for minors.

2. Influence of Advertising and Media

  • Advertising plays a crucial role in normalizing gambling. Commercials, online ads, and sponsorships can portray gambling as an exciting, glamorous, and easy way to make money.

  • The portrayal of gambling in movies, TV shows, and social media can glamorize the activity, making it appealing to impressionable youth.

  • Celebrity endorsements and influencers promoting gambling platforms can also sway young audiences.

3. Socio-Economic Factors:

  • In communities with high unemployment or poverty, gambling might be seen as a quick solution to financial problems.

  • Young people facing socio-economic hardships may turn to gambling in hopes of a large win to alleviate their financial burdens.

  • Family attitudes towards gambling, especially in households where adults gamble, can influence underage individuals to view gambling as an acceptable behaviour.

4. Peer Pressure and the Pursuit of Excitement:

  • Peer groups can have a significant influence, especially if gambling is a common activity among friends.

  • The thrill and risk associated with gambling can be appealing to youth seeking excitement or wanting to escape from the mundanity of everyday life.

  • The competitive nature of gambling and the desire to show off or be accepted by peers can also drive underage gambling.

Resources for Underage Gambling Help and Support

These organizations aim to educate and provide assistance to individuals and their families who are dealing with the impacts of problem gambling. They emphasize the importance of recognizing the signs of gambling addiction and encourage seeking help promptly.

South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF)

This foundation provides support and counseling to individuals struggling with gambling addiction, including underage gamblers. Their services are free and confidential, and they offer a 24-hour helpline, face-to-face counseling with mental health professionals, and a treatment program. The SARGF's helpline can be reached at 0800 006 008, and you can also contact them via WhatsApp at 076 675 0710. More information is available on their website responsiblegambling.org.za​​​​.

Gauteng Provincial Government

They offer counseling and support through the National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP). The NRGP provides free and confidential treatment and counseling to those affected by problem gambling and their immediate family members. You can contact them for more details at 0800 22 88 27 or via their email addresses provided on their website gauteng.gov.za​​.



South African Responsible Gambling Foundation

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Your questions answered

What is the legal age for gambling in South Africa?

The legal age for gambling in South Africa is 18 years old.

How do I report illegal gambling in South Africa?

To report illegal gambling in South Africa, you should contact the National Gambling Board or local authorities.

What is the national gambling policy in South Africa?

South Africa's national gambling policy focuses on regulating the gambling industry to ensure fairness, prevent problem gambling, and protect minors and vulnerable groups.

What is the penalty for online gambling in South Africa?

Penalties for illegal online gambling in South Africa can include fines and imprisonment, depending on the severity and nature of the violation.

Bonni Masike

Online Casino Savant and Globetrotter

Bonni Masike’s expertise spans over a decade in journalism and five years in the iGaming industry, where she brings insightful analysis to casino platforms and gaming trends. Bonni's unique blend ...continue reading

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