Visiting Casinos in South Africa
Most gamblers in the United States haven't considered the Republic of South Africa, but it's a gambling hotspot. This multi-ethnic nation has a dozen official languages, more than 3,000 miles of coastline, and a robust economy that's ranked in the top thirty in the world, on par with Denmark and oil-rich Venezuela. But its remote location (the country is closer to Antarctica than any other developed nation) means its casinos aren't exactly drawing the same kind of tourist attention as Macau, Las Vegas, or Monaco.
Visiting casinos in South Africa is easy as long as you're 18 and not intoxicated. Every province of the Republic of South Africa is home to at least one state-regulated gaming venue. But you'll also find dozens more race tracks, sportsbook kiosks, and OTB sites in each province, too. Lottery sales are growing each year, and they're among the highest per capita in the world. South Africa is also home to some of the most liberal gambling laws in the world.
We like to cover gambling destinations in detail. We've put together a complete guide to visiting the casinos of the Republic of South Africa, featuring the following sections. You can scroll the page to see them all, or use the following buttons to jump straight to a section that interests you.
The Top Casinos and Hotels in South Africa
In our destination-specific articles, we like to list two or three properties in each of three common categories:
- Mid Range
But South Africa is a small country compared to the areas we review in those other pages, so it has fewer accommodations to review. Instead of our usual listings, we've picked one property to cover in detail for each category. As for reviews of casinos – we cover a lot more gambling venues in the country at the end of this page.
Here are our three recommendations for casino resorts in South Africa.
The Cascades is a five-star casino resort in the middle of Pilanesberg National Park. Since this luxury destination was built, Sun City has become the go-to vacation destination for the entire Republic.
The attached Sun City Casino is open 24 hours a day. The 50,000 square foot casino floor was refurbished in 2013. That effort increased the number of slot machines and video poker games to over 1000. It also made space for more table games. You can play all the Western-style table classics you want spread across 43 tables.
The loyalty club at The Cascades is called MVG. When you join, you'll get instant access to a private lounge and VIP gaming room. There, you'll find high-roller slots, tables, and a private poker room.
The boutique hotel has large rooms. There are only 243 guestrooms on this massive property. Each has a kitchenette, private balcony with a view of the forest, and bathrooms with whirlpool tubs. As an added bonus, the hotel will have any of three-dozen world newspapers delivered to your room each morning
Outside of the casino, The Cascades offers a nightclub and a full service spa and health club with a 24-hour gym and pool complex. 24-hour concierge service is free, as is childcare. Older children can spend time in a large supervised arcade and gaming complex.
The Cascades offers dozens of restaurants and bars, including:
- The Brew Monkey
- Food Factory
- Harvest Grill & Wine
- The Palm Terrace
- The Sun Terrace
- The Raj
- The Grill Room
There are several other eateries and watering holes too.
For groups interested in high-end service without the hefty price tag of The Cascades, South Africa is a great vacation spot. Mid-range hotels are the norm. By far the biggest and best-reviewed of them all is City Lodge Hotel GrandWest. Average room prices here hover around $90 USD a night. That's less than half what you'll spend during the tourist season at The Cascades.
City Lodge Hotel GrandWest is home to one of the largest South African casinos, a 120,000 square foot space that's home to more table games (seventy-eight) than any other casino in Africa. More than 2500 slot and video poker games are also available in banks near the back of the space, past the table games and poker room. The poker room is one of the most-celebrated in all of the Republic. Ten tables are kept open around the clock, with the focus of play on Texas holdem and Omaha.
Though the GrandWest is a large property, it has few hotel rooms. Only 176 rooms are available, and those are usually booked a few months in advance. Every room has a whirlpool tub or separate bath and shower. Many rooms have views overlooking the city of Cape Town. City Lodge Hotel is more family-friendly than most South African casino resorts. The outdoor pool is a family favorite.
We mentioned above that City Lodge Hotel GrandWest is a big property, and the number of restaurants and bars on-site is a testament to that. Between the convention center, casino, and resort hotel, the list of restaurants is staggering.
Here's a list of places where you can grab a bite to eat at City Lodge Hotel:
- Beijing Orchid
- Squires Grill & Chophouse at GrandWest Casino & Entertainment World
- Union Castle Club
- Cape Town Fish Market at GrandWest Casino & Entertainment World
- Quarterdeck Restaurant
- Silver Dollar Spur at GrandWest Casino & Entertainment World
- Bella Gina
- The Coffee Shop
- Food Court at GrandWest Casino
- Alibama Sports Bar
- Hanover Street
- Jackson Hall
We recommend that visitors to South Africa who want to save money stay at Emerald Resort & Casino. Average room rates often dip below $70 USD per night, but you'll still enjoy some of the amenities of staying at a fancier resort property like the ones listed above.
As for gambling--you get what you pay for. This is one of South Africa's smaller casino floors, around 32,000 square feet. It may be on the small side, but the property stuffs a lot of games into that small space – 21 table games, more than 600 gaming machines, and a poker room with up to 6 tables playing at once. You won't find a VIP room at Emerald Casino. Regional law limits wagers to no more than $1000 per round of any game.
The hotel itself is nicer than you may imagine. The style is Kenyan-chic, with thatched furniture and walls, beautiful slate floors, and plenty of old-world African art and artifacts. Believe it or not, you can reserve luxury suites and conference facilities at this budget property. They cost more than the standard fare, so check with the front desk before booking.
If you're feeling adventurous, this resort includes a special River Resort facility, where you can take a mini-safari or river cruise. You can also rent big Safari Lodges for group or family trips, or try their newest amenity called "Liquid Living." This program lets you rent and stay on houseboats along the Vaal River.
Non-Gambling Activities in South Africa
We like to cover non-gambling activities in every region that we write about. We do that because we know that most people don't spend an entire trip in a casino. We know some of our readers travel with families and kids. In short, we're realistic. You're going to want to see part of South Africa at some point.
The good news is that South Africa is full of culture, nightlife, and amazing food. It's easy to stay entertained in the country if you choose not to gamble. But before you pick some activities not related to betting, we recommend that you consider a few factors that might affect your choice. Think about your budget, how much time you have, what the weather is like during your visit, and anything else you can think of that might affect what you do.
Many of the options below are high-energy outdoor activities. That's just the nature of South Africa. Obviously, you have to consider your physical abilities before you jump into a shark cage or zip line over a jungle canopy.
Here are our choices for the top non-gambling activities in South Africa.
- Eco-Tour in St.Lucia
- Hluhluwe Game Reserve
- River Cruise (Knysna Charters)
- Ballito Microlight School
- Tour the Cango Caves
Zulu Birding was started by a small group of Zulu tribesman with the traditional training necessary to guide hunting expeditions. Instead of guiding hunters to kill the wildlife, Zulu Birding runs eco-tours, showing off the beautiful flora and fauna of South Africa without harming it. If a rugged eco-tour isn't your speed, you can book birding expeditions of various lengths to see some of the rare birds of southern Africa.
You can barely throw a pebble in South Africa without hitting a safari company.
Why choose the Hluhluwe Game Reserve?
It's the oldest such property in South Africa, and it was the first to be recognized by the government as ecologically-friendly. South Africa offers a unique opportunity to see a range of exotic wildlife. While on this trip, you may see rhinos, lions, hyena, Cape buffalo, leopards, and many other classic safari animals.
South Africa's rivers are gorgeous. Ever better, they're relatively-peaceful. Our choice of location for a perfect South African cruise is the salt water sanctuary of Knysna. This is a winding river featuring untouched lagoons and a must-photograph rocky cliff formation at the mouth of a jungle river. If you book the right cruise, you can linger in the lagoon for a swimming break and visit the attached nature reserve on the same trip, spending an entire day in Knysna.
Ultralight aviation (called "microlight" in South Africa) is a major pastime in this part of the world due to relaxed regulations and favorable weather conditions. Microlight is so popular in Durban that it's also relatively inexpensive. You can have a couples' microlight experience for less than the price of a fancy dinner. Ballito Microlight School is the oldest-operating and best-reviewed provider of this type of aviation in Durban.
The Cango Caves are four kilometers of Precambrian limestone caves which are difficult enough to require a guide for every visitor. The Cango Caves is one of SA's most-visited landmarks-- and one of its most photogenic. While you're there, sign up for an ostrich ride at the Cango Ostrich Farm. If you weigh less than 150 pounds, that is. This side-trip is great for the kids, and while it's a bit expensive (equivalent to $100 US per ride), when else are they going to have a chance to ride an ostrich?
White Shark Projects is a group dedicated to the preservation of South Africa's native White Shark species. Their major source of revenue for these efforts is underwater adventures, like the infamous shark cage dive. They sell videos, do educational tours, and host fundraiser events as well, but let's face it – the shark cage is by far the coolest part of their lineup. At $45 per person for their shortest cage experience (twenty minutes per person in the cage), it's one of the most affordable extreme wildlife experiences you can have in-country.
The Victoria and Albert Waterfront stretches across most of Capt Town's coastline, offering views of the Atlantic Ocean, Table Bay Harbour, the City of Cape Town, and distant Table Mountain. You can do a number of things here--shop, eat, play on the beach, hear live music, watch people as they walk by. The V&A Waterfront is a can't-miss tourist stop. We think you should plan to spend at least half a day here.
Boulder's Beach is exactly what the name implies--a sheltered beach that exists in the inlets between giant boulders in Simon's Town, South Africa. Located on the Cape Peninsula, just outside Simon's Town proper, Boulder's Beach became a popular tourist spot when it was discovered that a colony of African penguins settled there sometime in 1982. Technically, this spot is inside the Table Mountain National Park, which means you won't pay to park or visit. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
The Cape of Good Hope is at the extreme southernmost tip of Africa.The tip of the Cape Peninsula has been declared a protected wildlife reserve with picnic spots and walks.
Opened in 2001 as part of the Gold Reef City Casino complex, the Apartheid Museum is actually a complex of museums and galleries in Johannesburg, South Africa. The space is dedicated to illustrating the impact of apartheid and to chronicling the entire history of 20th century South Africa.
The History of Gambling in South Africa
Gambling in South Africa is widely available. Many forms of legal bets are available to citizens and visitors to the country. This hasn't always been the case. Regulated gaming in the country is only available thanks to three major gaming law reform bills passed over the past two decades.
A colonial Dutch government first banned gambling in present-day South Africa in 1673. Dutch authorities were so far outnumbered in the territory, the law couldn't possibly have been enforced. Legally, it only applied to settlements with a Dutch population, anyway. Still, the tradition held on through centuries of Dutch and British occupation and rule.
South African colonization gave way to control by the fascist National Party, a group that reinforced the traditional ban on betting with the Gambling Act of 1965. This law officially banned all forms of gambling in the country. Horse racing continued and was extremely popular; the National Party considered it a sporting event and not a game of chance.
South Africans continued to gamble in spite of the ban. Throughout the 1970s, traditional homeland settlements of native South Africans (called "bantustans" in the native language) were granted some degree of independence from colonial or even national governments. Settlements like Ciskei, Venda, and Transkei were home to technically-illegal casinos, card rooms, and game parlors. This tradition continued in part because of the government's Apartheid policy, which meant only native South Africans had any access to these bootleg gaming venues.
According to Stephen P. Rule, a gaming researcher from South Africa, 2000 or more of these illegal casinos were operating by 1995.
How did a country move from totally-restricted gambling to a nearly totally decriminalized system?
Big changes in politics in South Africa led to big changes in policy. A new democratic government was elected in 1994, and new President Nelson Mandela legalized all forms of gaming. By 1996, the new government issued its first National Gambling Act, which created a regulated system of casino licensing, outlined the rules for sports betting and lottery games, and redefined horse racing as gambling, regulating it like sports betting
South Africa's National Gambling Act of 1996 is one of the most progressive gaming regulation overhauls in world history. Gambling has been outlawed in this part of the world since the 17th century. Games like roulette and blackjack had been illegal since the time of the Black Plague. Overnight, they were available, and provisions for their operation were created.
This act defined various terms related to gambling, made provisions for 40 casino licenses, outlined how they should be distributed among South Africa's provinces, and created a taxation and liability system so that betting would be a boon for the country's fledgling economy. The 1996 Act also created South Africa's National Gambling Board. They're the regulatory and enforcement arm of the country's casino and gaming entities. South Africans gained access to legal casinos, a nationwide lottery, sports and race bets, and a regulated market to control them all.
Two more major acts related to the legality of gambling in South Africa have been passed since 1996:
- The 2004 National Gambling Act
- The 2008 National Gambling Act
This made some changes to definitions, including notes on Web-based betting and the addition of two new casino licenses. The National Gambling Board legalized online gambling, but only at a list of 10 state-regulated websites aimed at South African citizens. Some penalties related to gaming crimes were increased.
Thisadded another casino license, bringing the country's total to 43. It made minor changes to definitions, essentially refining the scope of the country's new online gambling regulations. No new penalty increases were included in this amendment of South Africa's gambling regulations. It was mostly a line-item amendment.
South Africans have a new love of regulated gambling. These days, the most popular form of gambling in the country is the lottery. According to the National Gambling Board, 96% of South Africans of legal age buy at least one lottery ticket each year. The next most-popular game is slots, with 30% participation. Race and sports betting come in third, with 11% of South Africans wagering on a sporting event or horse or dog race each year.
South African Casino Directory
43 casinos are licensed by the Republic of South Africa. The majority of them are clustered around the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. These venues vary from large Vegas-style resort complexes to small racinos in former native settlements.
Here's a guide to a selection of major South African casinos.
Goldfields Casino is a large casino and entertainment complex featuring a nine-hole golf course, five themed restaurants, and a 50,000 square foot casino. This is one of the older properties in the Republic, having been built on the site of a formerly illegal gaming venue in a settlement community.
This 60,000 square foot casino and golf course on South Africa's southern coast was renovated in 2011 to offer more table games, a poker room, and a couple of new restaurants. The Garden Route has the distinction of being the southernmost casino in Africa.
This is the ultimate South African casino resort. Not only can you gamble in one of the largest casinos in Africa, but you're literally minutes from tons of upscale and casual activities and restaurants, a happening nightlife, two world-class golf courses, and a waterpark.
Located in the upscale Four Ways section of J-burg, MonteCasino is a modern facility with the bright lights and modern design of a boutique hotel in Las Vegas. If you're looking for American-style gaming, we're pretty sure MonteCasino is the only casino offering things like American roulette, keno, bingo, and the like.
City Lodge Hotel GrandWest is home to one of the largest South African casinos, a 120,000 square foot space that's home to more table games (78) than any other casino in Africa. More than 2500 slot and video poker games are also available in banks near the back of the space past the table games and poker room. The poker room is one of the most celebrated in all of the Republic. 10 tables are kept open around the clock. Most of the tables spread Texas holdem, although you'll also find Omaha and some other variants occasionally being dealt.
Gold Reef City Casino is more of an entertainment complex than a gambling hall. An indoor theme park, including a small water park and slides, is the real focus, with the attached casino thrown in for adult entertainment. Still, the gambling space is large, and all the classic South African electronic games are represented. Just don't expect much in the way of tables.
Graceland is a country club with an average-sized South African casino attached. The floor is only 10,000 square feet or so, but most of that room is set aside for poker and tables. Graceland is aimed at VIPs and big spenders.
Khoroni is our pick for the best remote gambling venue. You have to travel pretty far into the bush to get here. The casino itself is small--5000 square feet, just enough for a dozen gaming tables and a few hundred slot and video poker machines.
Naledi Sun is another remote South African resort with a small casino inside. Naledi is a boutique hotel, featuring just four dozen guest cabins spread out across a large jungle environment. The casino is set aside for electronic gaming machines only.
Casino Gambling in South Africa: Our View
We had so much fun putting this together that we're considering a group vacation to Johannesburg. If you're planning a trip to South Africa for casino gambling, you can trust the information in the above guide, since it's as up to date as we could get it and written by fellow bettors.
South Africa has a rich tradition to absorb, with an amazing history to boot. Yes, the country is saturated with gaming options, and South Africans themselves love gambling, but the nation has a vibrant culture that isn't to be missed. Okay, so South Africa isn't the first entry on most people's list of places to travel to for gambling, but it is something of a hotspot for gaming in a part of the world not known for such a thing.
It's clear that state-regulated gaming has been good for the country. Revenue from casinos, lottery sales, sportsbooks, and the other legal markets has supported the nation through a tumultuous recovery from decades of oppression. As legislators consider relaxing the existing laws even further, South Africa is a leader in the steady worldwide march toward progressive gaming regulations.