In a statement on Wednesday, DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia said his mind had recently been boggled by alleged statements from the department of trade and industry (dti) about regulating online gambling.
He said Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies had expressed a desire to support the SA Casino Association (Casa) after its CEO called for either cracking down on illegal online gambling or legalising online casinos and creating effective and credible regulation around them.
Cachalia said “flawed gambling policy” from 2016 had espoused the position that online gaming should be banned, but he said this was neither practical nor good for the economy.
“Minister Davies says online gambling is strictly prohibited and he wants tougher measures to be implemented to curb it. According to Mr Davies, the National Gambling Board (NGB) must be given more powers and become the regulator.
“Proposals include clamping down on advertising and unsolicited messages to entice vulnerable groups to gamble. The biggest clampdown will be made on unlawful winnings via online gambling.
“He says the Financial Intelligence Centre will work with financial institutions to verify and cease online winnings.”
He accused Davies and the ANC of therefore turning to “the very financial institutions he and his ANC are busy hobbling” for help in a futile attempt to confiscate the illegal winnings of gamblers online.
He quoted Davies as having said: “If you go online, we may not be able to stop you when you play the game, but when you win, we get you.”
Cachalia claimed this approach was actually at odds with that of the erstwhile chief director of policy and legislation at the dti (now chief director at the consumer and corporate regulation division), MacDonald Netshitenzhe, “the man responsible for this mess in the first place”.
Cachalia claimed Netshitenzhe had apparently said: “We can stop online gaming by banning the internet.”
The DA MP said it was an “unassailable fact” that online gambling had become a thriving industry with a growing number of fans and South Africa should be looking to keep up with trends.
He said that when the gambling bill was first introduced to the parliamentary committee in 2018, there was a strong view put forward that an amendment bill should look at gambling holistically, including online gambling.
“The ANC voted this down and only wanted to deal with three matters: the regulator, the National Central Electronic Management System (NCEMS), and the policy council. The bill was considered by the committee in record time, only a few months after being introduced, and speaks to how flawed this process is.
“Here again we see the usual undue haste, the railroading, the strong-arm tactics of an ill-considered bunch of legislators, led by the nose by a minister who believes that the state’s duty is to facilitate the spiritual redemption of men by impoverishing them in this life.
“This conflation of communism and religious flagellation is mind-boggling.”
He said the National Credit Regulator was presented as the only comparison in terms of a regulator and it “became very clear in the process that this was going to be a bad idea”.
Cachalia claimed the dti had gone as far as to “hide” a review document it had commissioned from the committee on the rationalisation of gambling entities.
“What the document found is that the NGB and National Lotteries Commission should be merged to form a commission to provide a holistic overview and regulation of gambling.
“So the big question is this: why did the dti ignore its own commissioned advice?”
He claimed the committee could not say it had applied its mind to the matter “because the ANC never read the report and didn’t want to hear about it before going line-by-line”.
“On the NCEMS, there has been no study into it. It duplicates functions and costs 6% of gross gambling revenues to administer. No one can tell us how they get to that figure. What it does do is generate R1.6 billion a year for the national pot – another stealth tax.
“In the end, this represents a fatal mistake to deal with legislation in a piecemeal approach. The committee has not applied its mind, the provinces are opposed to this bill, and there will be legal challenges, which the dti will lose hands down.”
He accused Davies of leading his department in a way that would cost jobs and damage the economy while deterring investment.
“Increasingly, the minister’s policy disposition is towards greater state control, greater punitive measures, wider ministerial powers, and heightened mistrust and antagonism of the business community. This amendment bill is no exception.
“There was nothing stopping the administrator from carrying on for another six months and for the sixth parliament to deal with gambling in an inclusive and holistic manner.
“Instead, we are presented with one piece of shoddy legislation after another by a portfolio committee whose ANC MPs are so desperate for re-election that all they do is wave acts of parliament in front of their political masters as a sign of their commitment to concepts they are unable to grasp.”
Cachalia took a final jab at government and the minister, saying that he was disinclined to accuse them of being dishonest, when they were probably just stupid.
(Edited by Charles Cilliers)