Poker is a very popular game in South Africa, as is gambling in general.  Many of its residents gamble in some form or another, and South Africa is both the gambling and poker capital of Africa by a good margin. Historically though, South Africa has been pretty restrictive towards gambling, going all the way back to 1673.  The Gambling Act of 1965 went even further, where the only gambling it permitted was betting on horse racing.

However, this did not stop South Africans from gambling though, and the underground gambling market not only flourished but grew, and by the time 1995 arrived, there were over 2000 illegal casinos operating in the country. Since prohibition wasn’t working at all, the South African government has taken a more pragmatic approach, to land-based gambling at least, seeking to regulate rather than just prohibit it.

Nowadays, South Africa now enjoys the most expansive regulated land-based gambling on the continent, although the government has attempted to pass statutes to prohibit online poker in the area. Check out this extensive article for more information on this.

Best Poker Sites for South African Players

South African Poker

Interest in poker hasn‘t been as quick to catch on in South Africa as it has in some other countries.  Poker has been slower to develop on the continent of Africa as a whole, and the development of online poker in Africa in general is still fairly immature, mostly due to the relative lack of access to the internet here.

Current culture is driven to a large degree by the internet, and South Africa, being a middle of the road country with regard to internet access these days, with about half the population having access, did not see the wave of online poker popularity sweep its shores to the same extent that more developed countries did.

Still though, the wave is reaching them, albeit more slowly, and South Africans have taken a particular liking to poker, and online poker in particular.

Land-based poker, as popular as it may be in a country, still greatly pales in comparison to the potential for online poker, simply by the measure of reach.  South Africa’s 53 live poker tables may be far and away the most of any African country, and actually compares pretty favorable to most countries in the world, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the overall potential of the poker market.

Regardless, this is a positive indicator as to the health of the country’s interest in poker today.  If the brick and mortar casino players like to play poker, then this generally means that people in the country like to play it, which is usually a good sign. The live poker scene itself has stimulated interest throughout the region with the recent running of large, organized poker tournaments and the implementation of a South African poker tour in recent years.

South Africa’s Response To Online Poker

In 1996, the tide finally started to turn in South Africa with the passing of the National Gambling Act, which legalized and regulated land based gambling, granting licenses and looking to provide oversight to it.

At this point, the government had a hand in the game so to speak, and as happens sometimes, they saw themselves as having an interest in preserving the status quo.  Online gambling and online poker can be seen as a threat to this, and rather than try to take advantage of the greater potential that online gambling provides, governments can instead look to stifle it.

So that’s what the National Gambling Act of 2004 sought to do, prohibiting both South Africans from operating “interactive gaming“ sites, and a few years later, also prohibiting residents from playing on them, regardless of what jurisdiction the sites were operated in. Interestingly though, these interactive gaming sites are defined in the law as sites offering casino, poker, and bingo – yet the law excluded online sports betting, because the government has a hand in regulating sports betting that does offer online betting.

So it’s quite clear that the prohibitions are simply related to the government’s lack of success in organizing themselves as far as regulating these so called interactive games, rather than being opposed to the idea of online gambling in general.  Sports betting, for whatever reason, is seen in a little more favorable light. There is still no list whatsoever regarding which sites are ACTUALLY banned in the country, so many operators continue to accept South African residents.

The government does permit poker and casino games to be played at live casinos though, so it may just be a matter of time before they wake up to the fact that they should be doing the same with these other forms of online gambling as well.  If it goes on anyway, and they can’t really stop it, that would be the only sensible approach really.

Playing Online Poker in South Africa

Poker in general in South Africa is quite popular these days, and of course only so many people can or would even be willing to travel to one of the poker rooms at the casinos.  Even if the tables were all full, 24 hours a day, that wouldn’t even represent a very significant amount of poker being played in total.

People tend to prefer playing in the convenience of their own home on their own computers of course, and can do so anytime they want with online poker.  This is why poker has exploded worldwide since the coming of the internet, and this is the case in South Africa as well, as online poker here is quite popular.

The government prefers people not play it online though.  However, making casino gambling illegal did not stop or even slow down land-based gambling back when it actually WAS illegal, and even today the government still lacks any authority to prevent players in the country from playing at any internet poker site in particular.

Sure, they can try to slow it down by looking to censor the internet but even that is easily worked around.  If people want to play online poker, and to the extent that people want to do it, they will do it, as other countries, even the United States, has learned.  In spite of their long running vendetta against online poker, unapproved online poker still goes on every day in abundance there.

Poker Sites That South Africans Can Play At

The question of what online poker sites are accessible to South Africans is an easy one to answer.  The answer is all of them and any of them – provided that the poker rooms themselves allow South Africans.

In spite of more and more countries being restricted by more and more online poker sites, for various reasons, South Africa isn’t even on anyone’s list right now.  This does go to show the lack of seriousness of the government’s regard for this issue, in spite of the lip service and even laws that speak out against it.

It is true that the size of South Africa’s online poker market, which is fairly big, probably factors into this.  Countries where the market is very small get painted grey a lot more readily than ones that have a profitable market.  South Africa would technically be fully black actually, if not for the fact that the poker sites just don’t seem to care, and you can bet that it being a profitable market plays a hand in this.

So this cashes out to full and complete access to all of the major online poker sites right now, which is as good as it gets, and South Africans are the envy of a great deal of countries in this regard actually.

This is not to say it’s legal to play on them, it isn’t, but if they don’t have a way to catch you, then for all practical purposes there are no legal consequences being encountered in playing all you want.  The law is not merely a statement or principles or moral prescriptions, how it is enforced is the part that matters, the only part really from a practical point of view at least.

As time passes, it’s quite possible that the South African government will rethink their stance on this, and choose to regulate it as they do land based gambling.  They are certainly losing tax revenue by being less than pragmatic towards this.  However, players shouldn’t care, as it is wide open as it gets already.

Depositing And Withdrawing At Poker Sites for South African Players

Given that banks tend to be more conservative than poker sites, you may not be able to use your South African credit card to deposit.  The same may happen with wire transfers as well. Like the United States, the country has done a decent job in being able to block users from actually facilitating a deposit using these means, but there are workarounds to this.

The method of choice for moving money in and out of poker sites, especially deposits through credit cards, is to use an intermediary processor (aka eWallets) such as Skrill to perform the transaction for you.  The money goes to and from the poker sites this way, and therefore, your credit card payments or withdrawals to your South African bank account sidestep dealing with online poker sites, therefore taking that issue right out of the picture.