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Bill to outlaw remote gambling tabled

Gambling through the Internet, telephone, or other technology could be banned

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Singapore looks set to enact the world's most restrictive laws on online and mobile gambling. These pursuits will soon be prohibited if the Remote Gambling Bill - tabled for the first time in Parliament on Monday - is passed - PHOTO: SPH

[SINGAPORE] Singapore looks set to enact the world's most restrictive laws on online and mobile gambling. These pursuits will soon be prohibited if the Remote Gambling Bill - tabled for the first time in Parliament on Monday - is passed.

Through a set of blocking measures - thwarting access to websites, payment channels, and advertising - the government plans to outlaw and criminalise all remote gambling activities. These are defined as gambling through the internet, telephone, or other kinds of communications technology.

If the Bill is passed, the legislation is expected to come into force next year, according to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesman.

The restrictions will apply as long as the gambling activity takes place in Singapore, regardless of where the bet is placed or where the remote gambling operator is located.

The Bill provides for a tightly controlled exemption regime, however. A Singapore-based, not-for-profit entity can apply to be an exempt operator if it contributes to public, social, or charitable purposes in Singapore, and has a good track record of complying with legal and regulatory requirements.

These exempted entities will be subject to strict operating conditions in the areas of social safeguards and responsible gambling, among others.

The legislation, if passed, will compel internet service providers to block at least a few hundred websites, and require banks to block fund transfers related to remote gambling activities.

In addition to making it an offence to advertise any form of remote gambling activity on any media platform, the legislation will also criminalise the act of assisting unauthorised operators.

This will give the police more powers to deal with agents, intermediaries, operators, and syndicates. An agent who facilitates remote gambling, for instance, could be fined up to S$200,000 and/or face a maximum prison term of five years.

While Singapore has strict regulations on gambling, its current laws do not expressly address remote gambling, as they were enacted before the internet era. For example, the Betting Act and Common Gaming Houses Act were originally enacted in 1960 and 1961, respectively.

Said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a press statement: "In developing this Bill, MHA studied the laws and practices of other jurisdictions, such as Hong Kong, Norway, and France. A six-week-long public consultation was held to seek feedback on the proposed framework. Consultations with grassroots, social services, religious and industry groups were also conducted, and their views have been considered.

"The objectives for regulating remote gambling are to maintain law and order and protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by remote gambling," added MHA.

This is especially since remote gambling can potentially become a conduit for other illegal activities and syndicated crimes. It is also easily accessible and often features addictive and repetitive play.

Indeed, a 2011 National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) survey found that online gamblers had worse self-control than on-site gamblers, and were more likely to gamble at a higher frequency, for a longer duration, and with more money than they had originally planned. Problem gambling counselling centres have also noted an increase in the number of online gamblers asking for help.

Because Singapore's remote gambling space is currently unregulated, no official figures are available, and it is hard to gauge the scope of the problem.

But analysts have estimated the size of the remote gambling market in Singapore to be over US$300 million; this is expected to grow by 6 to 7 per cent annually.

Globally, the revenue of the remote gambling industry in 2012 was estimated at US$35 billion, with a projected annual growth rate of 9 per cent. This is about five times the expected growth for conventional terrestrial gambling, which happens in person and on-site.

The Bill - introduced in Parliament on Monday by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli - will be debated when Parliament next sits again in October.