Why the chips on down for online gambling

Why the chips on down for online gambling

Online gambling addict "Benson" was at his wits' end two years ago, having incurred a spiralling debt from his insatiable habit.

On the precipice, he made a decision that wrecked his marriage - he sold off his four-room Housing Board flat and squandered his share away on football bets within a week.

"My wife was so heartbroken that she left me," the 45-year-old father of one, who declined to give his surname, tells Insight. "She said that she could never trust me ever again."

The divorce made him come to his senses. He joined a support group at Blessed Grace Social Services' Gamblers Recovery Centre, quit gambling, and is now working on mending ties with his 10-year-old son.

It is tragic social plights such as this that the Government wants to prevent in tabling the Remote Gambling Bill in Parliament on Monday.

Under the Bill, remote gambling is defined as gambling through the Internet, telephone, or any other forms of communication technology.

If passed in its current form, Singapore will be adopting what is arguably the strictest anti-online gambling regime in the world, observers say.

Few, if any, jurisdictions have adopted such a multi-pronged approach in blocking websites, financial payments and advertisements.

For the betting public, many of whom are football fans who love a flutter on their team, the fines alone would present quite a penalty zone.

Punters caught placing bets online could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to six months.

Anyone who abets a person under 21 to gamble remotely could be fined between $20,000 and $300,000 and jailed six years.

Gambling experts tell Insight that the litany of measures will effectively "choke the lifeline of the industry here".

MPs who gave it the thumbs up include Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who calls it a "positive and bold move".

The WongPartnership lawyer, who is a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law, notes: "We should guard against excessive gambling, regardless of the means."

MP Denise Phua (Moulmein- Kallang GRC), who chairs the Social and Family Development GPC, says the growth in online gambling here has become a "cause for concern".

She adds: "The Government is absolutely taking the right and necessary step to provide a legislative framework to regulate remote gambling activities."

British-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC) estimates the remote gambling industry here will rake in US$416 million (S$526 million) this year - up by more than 50 per cent from the US$271.58 million in 2009.

While still a fraction of the US$6 billion in gaming revenues earned by the two casinos last year, observers praise the Government for its proactive approach in nipping the problem in the bud.

The laws will deter the average Singaporean from placing an online bet, rather than serial gambling addicts who will find ways and means to game the system, says Mr Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of Las Vegas-based Global Market Advisors, which specialises in economics and government strategies in casino gaming, airlines and technology.

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