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Discriminatory approach to Singapore online gambling rules would encourage legal challenge, warns expert

The Singapore government would open itself up to a potential legal challenge by some of the biggest betting operators if they were discriminatory in banning those companies from offering remote gambling in the country, an expert has warned.

Gambling law expert Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint law venture partner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that it would be wrong for the Ministry of Home Affairs to prohibit remote gambling within Singapore on the basis of the size of betting operator. 

The Singapore government outlined its intention to place heavy restrictions on remote gambling in the country late last year and launched a consultation seeking views on how to frame the new rules in December. 

According to a Singapore Law Watch report, consultant Christian Kalb of CK Consulting has called for there to be a ban of the top 50 betting operators from offering remote betting services in Singapore. He said such a ban would be "practical". Exemptions should apply to operators based in Singapore that are subject to regulatory control and financial audits, Kalb said, according to the report. 

"You do not need to target a small bookmaker based in Central America," Kalb told the Strait Times, according to the Singapore Law Watch report. "You choose the targets, and it is not 1,000 companies." 

However, Bryan Tan said that the Singapore government would be ill-advised to take such an approach. 

"Discriminatory action or law enforcement could result in legal challenges being made," Tan said. 

In November last year the government in Singapore announced its intention to ban online and other remote betting activities within the country, subject to "specific exemptions". It said the regulation of the industry was justified because of its concerns about gambling addiction among young people in Singapore and because of fears about online gambling platforms being used for money laundering and other criminal activities. 

Shortly after the initial announcement, Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs launched a consultation on the issue. 

"We will introduce new laws to give our law enforcement agencies the powers to act against facilitators, intermediaries and providers of remote gambling services," the Ministry said at the time. "We will introduce measures to block access to gambling websites, block payments to remote gambling operators and prohibit advertisements promoting remote gambling." 

The Ministry said it would study gambling restrictions introduced in Hong Kong, among other countries, to gauge precisely how to allow for "a limited form of remote gambling through a strictly regulated authorised entity" within Singapore. 

"We will study carefully in detail whether to provide an exemption in Singapore and if so, the nature of provisions for a tightly controlled exemption regime, with constraints on the type of operator and the imposition of stringent social safeguards," it said. "We will study the experiences of other jurisdictions in this regard."    


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