Singapore to study online gambling curbs abroad

SINGAPORE - Measures adopted by other countries to tackle online gambling will be studied before Singapore comes up with its own regulatory framework, if necessary, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran on Friday.

He was speaking at the Casino Regulatory Authority's (CRA) annual workplan seminar.

He said officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will work with industry experts to examine if such measures are feasible or effective. Amendments to current laws or even new legislation may follow, he added.

Several countries, such as France, Italy and Sweden, choose to block online gambling sites.

However, analysts say that this may be a problem.

"The sites may reside on (computer) servers hosted in countries that have legalised them," said Britain-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants' chief executive Warwick Bartlett.

The United States does not block such sites. Instead, it passed a law in 2006 which bans US-based banks and credit card firms from transferring funds to gambling sites based outside the country.

Assistant Professor Natalie Pang of Nanyang Technological University, who researches social media and online behaviour, said blocking the sites is easier to do, but restricting the flow of funds is more effective.

"There is already software that tries to block sites, but there are many ways to get around it," she said.

Mr Bartlett agreed, citing the example of countries in Europe which tried to restrict access to the sites but met with little success.

"The resource required is considerable and it would seem that those intent on exploiting the loopholes have been quite successful," he said.

Places such as Hong Kong and Norway have taken another approach by permitting a limited number of state-approved companies to offer online gambling.

Australia has added a twist to this. Its licensing regime allows online gaming businesses to target anybody, except its own residents.

Addictions specialist Munidasa Winslow said moves to curb online gaming may not go down well with Singaporeans because it may be seen as the Government trying to control the Internet.

But online gambling is a rising problem, as he is seeing more online gamblers seeking help.

He said football betting and casino games are two of the most popular types of online gambling here.

Experts caution that even if the measures adopted by other countries are successfully implemented here, regulators and operators may end up playing a cat-and-mouse game.

"It will always be there - even if you block a site, there will always be new ones popping up," said Mr Chan Boon Huat from One Hope Centre, which counsels gambling addicts.

Mr Iswaran acknowledged as much and urged the CRA to stay abreast of emerging trends and challenges.

"The online gambling landscape is complex and rapidly evolving," he noted.

"These risks (of online gambling) will likely be magnified as the technology supporting online gambling further evolves."

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