Amid reports that Singapore's first licensed gambling website is poised to be launched, industry watchers have singled out a game changer: in-game betting.
Available on gambling websites worldwide, this involves players making "live" bets while a football game progresses. The odds change, the excitement mounts, the goals are nailed and multiple bets get placed on goal scorers and even yellow cards.
Till now, Singapore Pools has accepted bets only before matches start. If its website starts accepting in-game bets, as many widely expect, its revenues could rise and it will capture much of the betting flow that currently leaks overseas.
Singling out in-game betting, Mr Michael Gore, general manager of Savan Vegas Entertainment Resort in Laos, said: "For a gambler, this is heaven."
He estimates that in-game betting makes up 25 to 30 per cent of all football bets made online.
A Singapore Pools spokesman would only say that public consultation was still ongoing and that it was "premature" to comment.
With the World Cup looming next year, industry watchers expect revenue increases for Singapore Pools if the online betting option is approved by the authorities.
Mr Gore said the website would attract not just Singaporeans, but also foreign players who currently get their in-game-betting fix on unlicensed gambling websites.
If the local website is licensed and regulated, it would be a safeguard against scams and payment-collection problems.
Last month, the Government announced plans to limit access to remote-gambling platforms, but added that some exceptions could be made "after careful consideration".
Analysts estimated that Singapore's remote-gambling market is worth more than $370 million and is expected to grow by 6 to 7 per cent annually.
Mr Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of Las Vegas-based Galaviz & Co, said: "It makes sense for Singapore to block overseas websites that offer online gambling because the government cannot regulate those sites at this time due to their offshore nature."
Mr Galaviz added that, being a de facto government-owned company, Singapore Pools' profits could be used for good causes locally.
But social workers felt that licensed online betting might go against efforts to rein in problem gambling.
Dr Vincent Ng, executive director of the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centres, said such a move might send a confusing message.
"More people might get hooked on this new form of gambling, and later find their way to illegal sites when they run out of credits," he said.
Madam Jolene Ong - chairman of The Silver Lining, which runs gambling-rehabilitation programmes - said four out of 10 individuals who approach her with gambling problems bet online.
"The easy access makes it simple for them to get hooked. Those in their late teens, or young professionals, would be most at risk, as they are more tech-savvy," she said.
"It is like having a whole casino in their rooms."
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