Bill tabled to restrict online gambling in S'pore

SINGAPORE - Gamblers who go online for a flutter could find themselves staring at jail time.

A wide-ranging Bill, tabled in Parliament yesterday, seeks to expressly make unauthorised online gambling a criminal offence. It also aims to equip the authorities with the tools to fight this growing addiction.

Payments to remote gambling websites could be blocked, in a move that some noted may be a game-changer. Access to such sites could be turned off.

The gamblers themselves could be jailed for up to six months or fined up to $5,000, while the agents helping gambling websites could be hit even harder.

Since one key aim of the Bill is to protect young people from getting hooked on online gambling, anyone trying to lure those under 21 to this addiction would face even heavier penalties, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Bill also allows for Singapore-based operators to offer online gambling but this will be tightly regulated, and not be for profit.

The online gambling market here is estimated to be worth US$416 million (S$521 million) this year, up from US$383 million last year, according to data from Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy (GBGC). It estimated that more than 95 per cent of revenues go to operators offshore.

Online gamblers also set themselves up for trouble, as nearly 40 per cent of them tend to overestimate their wins and underestimate their losses, according to a study published in the Psychological Assessment journal.

The Remote Gambling Bill, which could become law when it is next read in Parliament, will equip Singapore with one of the toughest jurisdictions against online gambling, experts said.

The proposed law could also stop some of the more established remote gambling players from targeting Singaporeans.

"It will deter the major public companies and the larger private companies, and they presently represent a significant market share of the Singapore Internet gambling market," said Mr Warwick Bartlett, chief executive of GBGC.

"But the authorities have to keep a watchful eye on the market. If illegal gambling takes off... the police will be devoting too much time to catching illegal sites without any material success."

One Hope Centre executive director Dick Lum said that while he welcomed the proposed law as a good starting point, he was concerned that a clampdown could push hardcore punters towards gambling illegally offline.

With the strict requirements for companies that may apply to be exempted under the Bill, experts said the only legal online gambling operator here would likely be Singapore Pools. There would also be tight restrictions, such as limiting online gambling to certain types of betting.

"It will defeat the purpose of the protections if they allow casino games, so I suspect it will mainly be sports and numbers betting," said Dr Munidasa Winslow, an addictions specialist. "If you are a local company, you can impose caps on an individual basis."

A Singapore Pools spokesman said it was premature for the company to comment at this stage.

Proposals under the planned legislation

* Block access to unauthorised online gambling websites.

* Block money transfers to and from these sites.

* Criminalise activities relating to unauthorised online gambling. For instance, anyone found inviting someone under 21 to gamble online can be fined between $20,000 and $300,000 and jailed for up to six years.

* Allow for highly-regulated online gambling. Exempt operator must be based in Singapore and not be for profit, for instance.

This article was first published on September 9, 2014.
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