Unregulated gambling, betting and reckless gaming will soon become a thing of the past when the newly established Gambling Authority (GA) sinks its teeth in, this is according to Chief Executive Officer Thulisizwe Johnson. Starting from literally nothing and currently squatting at the former Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) offices at Government Enclave, the GA faces a mammoth task trying to control an industry that has for many years been on autopilot, safe for casino operations. The aim of the new gambling legislation is to make sure that the gaming industry is fully compliant and to enforce new control measures in order to ensure all gaming operations have licenses for their premises, slot machines, table games and personnel. The new gambling legislation will enforce the commencement of the Gambling Act of 2012. According to the Act, the Gambling Authority will introduce the regulations and take over the now defunct Casino Control Board. "And please don't ask me how many licenses we have issued so far," pleads Johnson at the end of a briefing to update the media about progress at the new authority on Tuesday, after conceding that the new gambling legislation in Botswana only came into effect on April 1, 2016 after regulations guiding their operations were approved by the minister.
Johnson says the new regulations apply to all virtual and land-based services from casinos, bookmakers, bingo, lottery and racing. “The new requirements are meant to curb illegal gambling and protect the licensed operators who do not only pay tax but also have jobs to protect. Financial intelligence holds the Gambling Authority responsible for oversight and supervision of money laundering. We rely on the operators to comply and put in necessary resources as reputation could be lost due to non-compliance,” he says. The old Casino Act and the Lotteries and Betting Act (restricted to raffles) through which betting and gambling operations were regulated have been repealed, as they could not address prevailing and unfolding developmental challenges of Botswana’s gaming and gambling industry. According to the new Act, Gambling means – betting (including Pool betting) and bookmaking, Gaming and Promoting or entering a lottery while promotional competition means lottery conducted for the purpose of promoting the sale or use of any goods or services. The new Act establishes a fund for pathological gambling prevention programmes and a rehabilitation committee, which are yet to be set up. Johnson reveals that the GA has not started receiving any applications or issued any licenses. When fully operational, the Authority shall issue a Request for Application (RFA), including all information required for the application to be completed. Licenses shall be awarded for a period of 10 years unless revoked or renewed.
However, casinos with licenses are exempt for applying afresh for new licenses as they will run until they expire. They are nonetheless required to comply with the new Act. Now that the regulations are in place request for applications of licenses is expected to start soon, with a non-refundable application fee levied on applicants. Casinos will have to pay a P250,000 registration fee, while betting houses, bingos and lotteries will pay P50,000, P10,000 and P1 million respectively. Among a myriad of licenses the GA will issue a Betting Licence, Bingo Licence, Bingo Machine Licence, Bookmaker’s Licence, Casino Licence, Gambling Establishment Licence, Gambling Machine Licence, Lottery Licence, Lottery Machine Licence, Racing Licence and Testing Agent Licence. The GA neither has any rehabilitation facility nor has it established the existence of excessive or addictive gamblers as required by the Act, but points out that such will require collaborative effort between the GA and the gambling industry for monitoring and compliance. "There is currently no regulation for online gambling yet but such will be developed as and when the need arises. There are challenges in that area as the application for licence and monitoring require physical identification of the applicant with a known address, which is not possible online," says Johnson.
Despite the challenges ahead in the multimillion Pula gambling industry, Johnson remains confident that his team will manage to stamp their authority. The establishment of the Board of Directors and the appointment of some key personnel in management at the GA are some of the formative stages indicative of positives to come, according to Johnson, when they finally move to their lavish offices at the Fairscape Precinct. Responding to a question on how they will regulate competitions in telecommunication network providers, local radio stations, newspapers and other entities that fall outside their purview GA's Potlako Mawande said they are still consulting with other stakeholders, among them BOCRA to devise strategies on how to handle cases to avoid duplication of mandates. Johnson added that they will be carrying out a lot of research to understand the gambling industry to adequately regulate it. To achieve this, he says, they will engage and cooperate with regional and international gambling associations in different countries.