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Out-Law News 2 min. read

Singapore parliament backs ban on remote gambling

New laws that will ban remote gambling services from being provided in Singapore other than in restricted circumstances have received the support of the country's parliament.

The Remote Gambling Bill was voted through by the parliament earlier this week amidst concerns from Singapore's government and law makers that online and mobile gambling facilitates crime such as money laundering and creates social problems through problem gambling.

In a speech made to Singapore's parliament, Singapore's second minister for home affairs, trade and industry S. Iswaran said: "We have strict laws on gambling to maintain law and order, and to minimise the potential harm, especially to the young and vulnerable. We prohibit gambling, unless it is specifically allowed for by way of a stringently regulated exemption or license. We will adopt a similar approach to remote gambling. We aim to achieve this policy intent through a combination of new legislation, stepped up enforcement, and enhanced public education and engagement."

"The Bill has two key objectives. First, to tackle the law and order issues associated with remote gambling. Second, to protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by remote gambling. The Bill will criminalise the entire spectrum of remote gambling, from individual gamblers to facilitators; agents and runners, to operators. The Bill also provides for website and payment transactions blocking measures, as well as advertising bans. It has provisions for exemption under stringent conditions," he said.

Under the new law, companies that organise, manage or supervise remote gambling services and make them available to Singapore consumers could face fines of up to SIN$500,000 ($400,000) for undertaking those activities without authorisation to do so.

The general ban on remote gambling is qualified by exemptions. Operators can obtain certificates allowing them to provide remote gambling services to consumers in Singapore where this is considered to be "in the public interest". Factors such as where operators are based and the subsequent ease with which any conditions of certificates of exemption can be enforced is one of a number of factors Singapore's government could consider when carrying out the 'public interest' test.

Whether the remote gambling services would be run by not-for-profit purposes is also a factor that will influence whether applications for exemptions will be accepted.

Where remote gambling services are exempted, operators will only be able to accept bets on sports events and to run lotteries, although the scope of activities permitted under the exemption could be extended by the Singapore government.

Singapore-based 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 there remains uncertainty about whether the provision of some social games will be banned under the new law.

"Measures have been taken to now effectively eradicate all forms of remote gambling save for what can be provided under exemptions," Tan said. "The exemptions are undoubtedly very limited."

"There is some concern by the casual games industry that those with certain business models, such as in-app purchases, would be caught by the broad wording of the Act. There were assurances made in parliament that this was not the intent but some news reports reported comments by the Minister that this area of social gaming might change to necessitate it being covered by the law," he said.

Susan Biddle of Pinsent Masons, a specialist in the regulatory regime for gambling in Great Britain (GB), said social gaming is an area that the GB regulator is monitoring.

"Distinguishing social games as those where players don’t have the chance of acquiring money or converting game credits into money or 'real' merchandise is similar to the distinction made in GB where social games which don’t involve the possibility of 'cashing out' and are currently not within the scope of the gambling regime," Biddle said. "The GB regulator is however also keeping a watching brief on this area; it may be that social gaming is regulated in future in GB but not necessarily via the Gambling Commission."

According to a report by Asia Gambling Brief, Malaysia may follow Singapore in introducing stricter controls on remote gambling activity.

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