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Draft laws propose single body to regulate gambling; criteria for social gambling exemption spelt out

SINGAPORE — The Government is proposing changes to the law to achieve better oversight of gambling, as online gambling grows in popularity while continuing to minimise the social harm caused by the activity.

The proposed changes to Singapore's gambling laws will take account of the increased popularity of online gambling.
The proposed changes to Singapore's gambling laws will take account of the increased popularity of online gambling.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs noted the rise of online gambling though gambling-related crimes have remained low
  • It said technology has increased the accessibility of gambling products and blurred the lines between gambling and gaming
  • Laws must address emerging trends in the gambling landscape, it added
  • It is also looking to set up a new regulatory body to manage all forms of gambling here
  • Proxy gambling and underaged gambling will be criminalised under the proposed laws

SINGAPORE — The Government is proposing changes to the law to achieve better oversight of gambling, as online gambling grows in popularity while continuing to minimise the social harm caused by the activity.

As part of the revamp of gambling laws, it aims to set up a new regulatory body, the Gambling Regulatory Authority, to manage all forms of gambling.

Currently, the Casino Regulatory Authority regulates casinos, a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) unit regulates online gambling and fruit machines, and the Singapore Totalisator Board governs physical gambling services run by lottery operator Singapore Pools.

Two draft laws — the Gambling Control Bill and the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore Bill — introduced in Parliament on Monday (Feb 14) aim to address the increased accessibility of gambling products and the blurred line between gambling and gaming, MHA said.

In a media release, MHA noted that technology has changed the way people gamble and business models have adapted to changing consumer preferences for games with gambling elements.

This includes video games involving virtual prizes and the emergence of marketplaces for virtual items that facilitate real-world payouts, MHA added.

Demand for sports betting through online channels for Singapore Pools has also grown – it received about 60 per cent of its revenues from online channels in the financial year 2020, up from about 30 per cent three years earlier.

Though gambling-related crimes have remained low, and the number of people arrested for illegal gambling activities was stable from 2011 to 2020, MHA said that laws and regulations must address the emerging trends in the gambling landscape.

KEY CHANGES

To ensure gambling laws remain effective, MHA proposes several changes:

  • Amend the definition of gambling to cover existing and emerging gambling products. For example, the scope of betting will go beyond horse racing and sporting events to include the outcome of any competition, event or process
  • Issue gambling operator licences for key products such as Singapore Pools’ products both online and physical, and gambling in private establishments
  • Issue "class licences" for lower-risk products, such as mystery boxes and business promotion lotteries
  • Introduce a three-tier penalty structure across online and physical gambling offences, with the highest penalties imposed on operators, followed by agents and then punters 
  • Enhance penalties, including mandatory jail terms for agents and operators, and increase penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate illegal gambling services
  • Criminalise proxy gambling, or gambling on the instruction of someone outside the gambling area

MHA said that physical social gambling among family and friends, a commonplace activity among many people here, is exempted from the proposed laws.

However, those engaging in such gambling must meet these conditions:

  • Participants are members of the same family or know each other personally
  • The gambling is not conducted in the course of any business
  • The gambling is not for the private gain of any person other than the extent of the game’s winnings
  • It is conducted on the premises of an individual’s home

The ministry stressed that online social gambling will not be exempted because it would be difficult to establish if individuals are “sufficiently and meaningfully” acquainted with each other to qualify as social gambling.

SAFEGUARDS REMAIN IN PLACE

To protect vulnerable individuals against gambling, MHA said that the current minimum age for gambling will remain at 21 years old, except for gambling at Singapore Pools’ physical outlets, which will stay at 18 years old.

Under the proposed laws, it will be a criminal offence for underaged individuals to gamble and enter gambling areas, except where entry checks are not required, such as Singapore Pools' physical outlets.

“These outlets are open areas with easy access, and underaged individuals may enter unknowingly with no intention to gamble,” MHA said.

In a separate media release, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said that in tandem with the introduction of the Bills in Parliament, its exclusion system will be extended to more financially vulnerable individuals from June 1.

Under this system, these individuals are now prohibited from entering casinos, fruit machine rooms in private clubs or opening a Singapore Pools online gambling account:

  • Recipients of ComCare, which provides social assistance for low-income individuals and families
  • Recipients of legal aid
  • Tenants under the public rental scheme with six or more months of rent arrears
  • Undischarged bankrupts

MSF said that the system will be extended to all tenants and occupiers on the public rental scheme, which provides subsidised public rental housing. This is an "upstream" approach to prevent problem gambling among households with financial needs, it added.

Related topics

gambling Parliament MHA MSF online gambling Singapore Pools online gaming

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