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Cultural Significance of Casinos - The Role of Casinos in Society

Written by

Rudie Venter
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The allure of casinos is undeniable. The South African online gambling market is expected to grow by almost 10% from 2023 to 2027. This means that in 2027, there will be a market volume of almost R20 billion.

For most South Africans, the desire to gamble comes down to winning big. There’s an attitude of being in it to win it, and this keeps players coming back for more. South Africa has a long history of gambling, and over the years, it’s become even more entrenched in society. Today, casino culture is alive and well, and gambling in SA is a popular pastime.

The cultural significance of casinos world wide

Historical Background of Casinos

Gaming can trace its roots back to our earliest ancestors, the world’s very first casino, Il Ridotto, in Venice, opened its doors in 1638. Since then, we’ve seen brick-and-mortar casinos pop up in South Africa and around the rest of the world. The 1990s gave us online casinos, making it easier than ever to access real money games.

The Evolution of South African Casinos

Gambling in South Africa has faced heavy restrictions since the 1600s. The 1965 Gambling Act banned all forms of gambling except horse racing, which was seen as a sports activity. In the late 1970s, bantustan areas like Bophuthatswana, Venda, Ciskei, and the Transkei started operating casinos. With only native South Africans living there, most of us couldn’t access these establishments. 

But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and by the 1990s, there were roughly 2,000 illegal gambling houses running in South Africa. In 1994, all forms of gambling were legalised, and two years later, the National Gambling Act implemented licenced casino systems and a single national Lottery. Horse racing was also reclassified as a gambling act. This is roughly the period when online casinos were introduced as well, making gambling far more accessible to many South Africans. 

The National Gambling Act was repealed in 2004 but was then reestablished in 2008 as the Gambling Amendment Act. 

The Casino Industry in Different Cultures

South Africa loves its sports, and what better way to participate in your favourite cricket, rugby, or soccer game than by betting on it? Interestingly, African countries report high rates of mobile gambling penetration because so many of us have smartphones. Because there were so few land-based casinos for so long, we still rely predominantly on the South African online casinos that the expert team at PlayCasino rates and recommends. 

Casino culture is relatively new to South Africa and isn’t as entrenched here as it is in places like Las Vegas or Atlantic City. However, places like Sun City and Montecasino are synonymous with gambling and offer a small taste of the Vegas lifestyle. 

Architecture and Design

Casinos in South Africa are all designed with themes of grandeur and opulence. Montecasino in Johannesburg is inspired by the 15th Century Palazzo Corsini in Italy, GrandWest in Cape Town features the Victorian style of historic Cape Town buildings and the vibrant streets of District Six, and Gold Reef City (also in JHB) boasts a theme that centres on the gold rush that took place in the city.

Historically, the psychology behind casino design was to try and make patrons stay as long as possible, with a lack of clocks and lights that mimicked the same time of day, all day and night. However, across South Africa, casinos tend to have a more all-in-one resort look and feel, which is used to encourage people to spend a longer time enjoying all the amenities and make a day or night of gambling.

How Much Does Gambling Contribute To The Economy?

In South Africa, casinos can realistically be viewed as economic powerhouses, be they online or land-based. They provide employment opportunities, generate taxes, and provide a form of entertainment to local communities. 

Effect on Local Communities and Tourism

South African casinos boost local economies in a number of ways. They support the growth of ancillary businesses like restaurants and hotels and other local businesses also experience an increase in demand for their services due to the constant influx of patrons. 

Casinos also often encourage improvements to local infrastructure, creating jobs and buildings that benefit entire communities. Plus, the social benefits of gambling foster a community spirit. 

For tourists, casinos can be major attractions too, and these establishments serve as drawcards. Many casinos have hotels attached, making them even more attractive to foreign visitors. 

Entertainment and Recreation

Players who visit brick-and-mortar casinos often do so for longer than just a day, with many travelling long distances for a gambling holiday. This means that there’s a need for more diverse entertainment, which in turn has led South African casinos to offer a range of amenities, including venues, shows, spas, films, and incredible restaurants. 

In most cases, gambling is chosen as a simple leisure activity, a way to relax and have fun. The social benefits of gambling are also highlighted, as this adds to the feeling of entertainment and recreation time. When approached like this, the positive effects of casinos on communities are clear as players' health and well-being are enhanced, and gambling satisfies major psychological needs. 

Gambling and Addiction

There are positive and negative impacts of casinos, and compulsive gambling or gambling addiction is one of the downsides. Playing real money games stimulates our brains’ reward system in the same way drugs and alcohol can. In the same way that it can happen with drugs and alcohol, some people are just not able to manage their urges.

In South Africa, the Responsible Gambling Organisation provides free, confidential treatment to any player suffering from gambling addiction. The National Gambling Board has also established the SA Council on Responsible Gambling as a public/private sector partnership. You’ll find these organisations' details prominently advertised in land-based casinos, and online casinos tend to have sections dedicated to playing responsibly, as well as easy access to resources that can assist with problem gambling behaviour.  

Responsible Gambling Measures in Casinos

Responsible gambling refers to gaming in a way that minimises the potentially negative effects of gambling on both individuals and the society we live in. This includes recognising and reducing the risks associated with gambling and promoting healthy, safe gaming practices.

Casinos do this by putting responsible gambling programmes and policies into practice. These outline operators’ commitment to promoting healthy habits and include offerings like self-exclusion programmes. These allow players to voluntarily exclude themselves from the casino and all its activities. Another method casinos use to promote responsible gambling is providing resources and information that help people understand how to play this way. 

Cultural Representation in Casinos

The positive effects of casinos on communities means that the cultural view of gambling in South Africa is generally good. We see it as compelling entertainment, an enjoyable social activity, a way to escape the demands of daily life, and a hobby that requires skill and provides the opportunity to win big. 

Casinos also incorporate elements of our various cultures into their designs. GrandWest is an excellent example of this. The décor captures the old-world days of the city’s past, with building facades that reflect landscapes traditionally associated with Cape Town. This includes the gorgeously sculpted Victorian architecture in the Bo Kaap and Tamboerskloof and the Cape Dutch homes of the Southern Suburbs. 

The cultural impact of themed casino resorts can be summed up in the fact that they can introduce people to sights and cultures that they have previously not had experience with. They also create employment opportunities in rural areas, with the Wild Coast Casino in Transkei being a great example of this.

Casinos and Pop Culture

In South African pop culture, casinos haven't featured too prominently in local TV series and movies. However, when they are, they’re depicted as glamorous venues where celebrities hang out, expensive alcohol is served, and big winners are made.

Role of Casinos in Supporting the Arts

Casinos like Montecasino display amazing murals in their interiors that have been created by local South African artists. Additionally, most South African casinos offer entertainment like cabaret revues, comedy shows, and live music by local and international acts. By doing this, they expand their potential customer base and encourage people to see them as more than just gambling venues.

Casinos and Technology

In South Africa, online casinos are at the forefront of technological advancements in today’s internet-driven age. The best online casinos are optimised for mobile, ensuring that more SA players can join in the fun, even if they don't own a computer. Mobile hotspots also make it easier for players to connect on the go.

VR  and AR advancements also play a  role in enhancing the online casino experience, with many sites now offering games that can be enjoyed in new and exciting ways.

Gender and Casinos

The positive and negative impact of casinos can be seen in the way the genders approach gambling. South African gender studies show that South African men are more inclined to gamble, and they prefer sports betting. Women who enjoy gambling prefer games like Bingo, Scratch Cards, and Lucky Draws. Problem gambling is also more prevalent in men than in women.

In the South African casino industry, the representation of women is on the rise. A growing number of female managers and employees on the Gambling Board is evident, with this number looking set to increase in the future. 

Casinos And Social Interaction

There are several social benefits of gambling, as casinos level the playing field in terms of race, gender and creed. The social dynamics in a casino tend to be good as players all have the same goal and will celebrate one another’s wins. Along with fostering connections with fellow gamblers, casinos also offer a safe environment for newcomers and more experienced players alike. 

Casinos and Culinary Experiences

Casinos and restaurants go hand in hand, and in a country with 11 different cultures, South African casinos have the opportunity to offer players a chance to enjoy all kinds of cuisine. From fine-dining curry houses to takeouts like KFC, everyone’s tastes and budgets are generally catered for.

 Rituals and Superstitions in Casinos

Because the outcome of real money gambling games relies so heavily on luck, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many players rely on superstitions to guide their gameplay. 

Sangomas have been known to be used to increase players' luck. These practitioners believe that smoke from dried vulture brains grants visions of the future, giving gamblers an edge in a casino. Other beliefs are more Westernised, with players wearing lucky clothing, carrying lucky charms, or only betting on lucky numbers.

As technology becomes more advanced, location matters less because more gamblers play online. But many superstitious gamblers will still rely on their cultural beliefs and specific practices before they begin playing. 

Casinos and Philanthropy

Whether it’s in the form of silent auction items, one-time cash gifts, long-term partnerships with charities, community event sponsorship, or toy and food drives, casinos contribute hundreds of thousands of rands yearly to local organisations and causes. 

Online and land-based casinos also partake in social responsibility initiatives like preventing gambling from being a source of disorder and crime. 

Casinos and Regional Identity

The casino industry keeps expanding globally. Perhaps because of this, many owners are trying to cater to the unique cultural preferences of local players and preserve a sense of regional identity. This is done by incorporating traditional elements, regional aesthetics, and cultural themes into casino designs and entertainment offerings and games. These approaches ensure that the gambling experience stays relevant and echoes the audience’s cultural values.  

There’s a case for saying that casinos are actually not just entertainment spaces but a reflection of the various cultures and traditions found in South Africa and around the world. Whether you’re at a Sun City Resort, the glamorous Montecasino, or exploring Emperor’s Palace, there are sure to be cultural references.

Casinos and Globalisation

The biggest factor in the gambling habits and casino culture of players in South Africa and around the rest of the world is the Internet. We’re no longer bound by international borders and physical space and new online casinos are opening all the time. A massive cross-cultural exchange is happening as people from different regions and walks of life start interacting. In recent years, casinos have become a platform that promotes healthy globalisation between people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. 

Ethical Considerations of Casinos

Casino operators need to consider a range of ethical issues like proper age restrictions, potential addiction, and responsible gaming. They will also need to be sensitive to the cultures of the areas they operate in and guarantee players a safe gambling experience every time. 

Future of Casinos in a Changing Society

More and more South African players, and their counterparts around the globe, are seeking a more realistic gameplay experience. To answer this demand, online casinos will no doubt start offering more live dealer, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality games. They will become more sophisticated, too, with more games, additional dealers, and extra immersive features becoming available. 

Casino Celebrities

Perhaps the best-known South African gambler is Sol Kerzner, who was also one of our country's most successful businessmen. After flying over a piece of open land in 1979, he created one of the country's most majestic casino resorts. 

Some of the biggest names in South African entertainment have also lent their names to various gambling brands over the years, including DJ Fresh, Siya Kolisi, and Dean Furman. 


Not only do South African casinos offer players a great way to relax and unwind, but they’ve also become vital revenue sources for governments. This money is then used to fund public services and the development of various infrastructures.

Are casinos only about gambling?

No. Casinos are often built near or combined with live entertainment, resorts, hotels, and restaurants and can be said to be about cross-cultural exchanges.

How do casinos impact local economies?

The positive effects of casinos on communities are myriad as they create employment opportunities and uplift an area.

Are there any downsides to the cultural representation in casinos?

If cultures are represented in a less-than-positive way, this may affect the way society views them.

What is the future of casinos in the digital age?

The future of South African online casinos will be influenced by live dealer gaming and technological trends like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

Rudie Venter

Rudie Venter

Online Slots and Casino Games Expert

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Rudie Venter is a seasoned online casino games expert with eight years of industry experience. Holding a degree in psychology, he combines academic insight with practical knowledge of casino game strategies. Rudie's talent lies in demystifying game mechanics, making them accessible and fun for everyone. On his time off, Rudie loves a good ol’ braai and watching the rugby with a naughty Klippies & Coke (in moderation, of course).

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