Some social games may appear benign but could turn out to be online gambling games in disguise, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday.
It was with such a possibility in mind that the Bill on remote gambling was given a broad scope to effectively tackle these disguised games and the fast-changing online gambling sector.
Explaining the Bill's provisions, he said: "We deliberately sought to be comprehensive in the Bill's coverage. If not, it will lack the efficacy and currency in regulating a sector that is innovative... and quick to adopt new technology."
The Bill criminalises the whole spectrum of remote gambling activities - from the act of gambling to provision of gambling services - and defines betting as the staking of money or "money's worth", which could include virtual currencies and in-game credits that can be exchanged for money.
Not all social gameswere as "innocuous" as they were made out to be. He cited social casino games designed to simulate real-world gambling, such as sports betting or poker, and replicate the casino experience. The only difference between these games and gambling is the use of in-game credits.
"The fact is that the line between social gaming and gambling is increasingly becoming blurred."
Noting that online operators are accepting virtual currencies, like bitcoin, he said such "disruptive developments" could potentially help operators circumvent remote gambling laws that are too narrow.
He added that "as a matter of principle", social games where people are not playing for a chance to win money, and where in-game credits cannot be converted to money or real merchandise, would not be covered. This includes smartphone games like Farmville.
The Home Affairs Ministry and Media Development Authority will work to ensure that the new law will not impede the development of legitimate gaming businesses.
This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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