Singapore's remote gambling restrictions strategy backed by community stakeholders

Out-Law News | 07 Mar 2014 | 10:37 am | 2 min. read

The Singapore government's plans to make online and other remote betting activities illegal, except in cases of "specific exemptions", have met with support from some community stakeholders.

Singapore's National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) reports that while some stakeholders consulted called for remote gambling to be completely banned, others fear a total ban would simply drive the problem underground. Instead they want the government to introduce strict controls to the sector which would see only non-profit organisations allowed to operate limited remote gambling services, with any profits going to charitable causes.

The calls are in line with the Singapore government's pledge last November to develop a regulatory regime which allows for "a limited form of remote gambling through a strictly regulated authorised entity". Hong Kong operates such a system, to combat the rise of the black market for gambling.

Support for the Singapore government's strategy was revealed as the NCPG released the findings of two consultation sessions it held in January with stake-holders from ethnic, religious, community, social service and grassroots organisations.

In a statement issued yesterday, the NCPG said: "Stakeholders expressed unanimous support for some form of regulation on remote gambling. Some favoured a complete ban to prevent easy access to remote gambling, especially among youth who tended to be more tech-savvy and potentially at higher risk."

"Others were of the view that a complete ban on remote gambling would exacerbate problems as remote gambling activities might be driven underground," the NCPG said. "There were suggestions to allow a limited form of remote gambling through a strictly controlled/regulated system which allowed only not-for-profit entities to operate, with proceeds channelled towards charitable and community causes."

"On blocking measures, the general consensus was that they were necessary to minimise illegal access and to deter casual and non-gamblers from remote gambling," it said. "However many were sceptical about the effectiveness of these measures, which could be easily circumvented by determined, tech-savvy gamblers.

 NCPG chairman Lim Hock San, said: "NCPG remains committed to minimising the potential and actual harm of problem gambling. We are concerned about gambling products that may potentially increase the accessibility and/or availability of gambling opportunities in Singapore. "On our part, NCPG will continue to be pro-active in strengthening its public education efforts to educate the public on the risks associated with active remote gambling, and the danger of social games which simulate gambling."

Last November, S Iswaran, Singapore's second minister for home affairs said that the government would introduce new laws to allow enforcement agencies to act against facilitators, intermediaries and providers of remote gambling services. He the government would also block payments to remote gambling operators, and prohibit advertisements promoting the activity.

He added that the government decided to act after identifying a number of problems with remote gambling.  These included the ease with which people, particularly the younger generation, can access gambling sites online and via their mobile devices and the way "the nature and design of the games ... lend themselves to repetitive play and addictive behaviour".  He also expressed concerns that remote gambling platforms have the potential to be used as "a source or conduit of funds for other illegal activities and syndicated crime".

Singapore-based Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint law venture partner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "Gambling regulation requires a fine and often tricky balance of appropriate regulation. Remote gambling is even trickier with some of the jurisdictions who have attempted to do so earlier experiencing varying results not up to expectations."

The NCPG was set up in 2005. The council comprises 16 members with expertise in law, psychology, psychiatry, social work, religious services and research. Its remit is to address problem gambling of all forms through education, outreach and help services. The NCPG defines problem gambling as a progressive condition which is similar to alcohol or drug addictions. Those with a gambling addiction have problems controlling their gambling even when it presents serious problems for themselves and their families. Over time their gambling is likely to increase in terms of frequency and the amounts wagered.