New laws to curb online gambling on the cards

SINGAPORE - Taking aim at the increasing popularity of online gambling in tech-savvy Singapore, the Government is now looking at a host of measures to curb the problem.

It wants to block access to illegal gambling websites, prevent payments to operators and ban advertisements for online gambling, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran revealed Friday.

The authorities are also considering whether to allow a limited form of legalised online gambling, so that gamblers do not end up resorting to illegal gambling and betting offline.

Following a public consultation exercise, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is aiming to implement the new laws by early next year - ahead of the football World Cup in Brazil - although Mr Iswaran said the timing is not "motivated by any particular event".

Rather, the move is prompted by the rise of remote gambling - through the Internet and mobile apps - an industry that was worth US$35 billion (S$43.9 billion) worldwide last year.

Analysts' estimates show that Singapore's remote gambling market is worth more than $370 million, and is expected to grow by 6 per cent to 7 per cent annually.

A recent MHA survey of 1,000 Internet users found that almost three in 10 had gambled remotely at least once in the past year, said Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

"This is not surprising as one can gamble anonymously from almost any location at any time," he said.

The highly addictive nature of online gambling was another worry. A 2011 survey by the National Council for Problem Gambling found that online gamblers had worse self-control, were likely to gamble more often and for longer, and lost more than planned, compared with other gamblers.

"Remote gambling operations can potentially become a source or conduit of funds for other illegal activities and syndicated crime," said Mr Iswaran, who was speaking at the launch of the third biennial Singapore Symposium on Casino Regulation and Crime. "It is therefore important that we take proactive steps."

The measures being considered are "not foolproof", but current gambling laws need updating as they were enacted before the Internet era, he added.

The announcement was lauded by anti-gambling advocates and counsellors, who said the ease of online gambling can make it more dangerous than casino gambling.

Mr Gerald Goh, deputy director of Thye Hua Kwan Problem Gambling Recovery Centre, said: "I have seen youth, who are not old enough to get into casinos, using their mobile devices to place football bets."

But One Hope Centre executive director Dick Lum is worried that a clampdown could push hardcore gamblers to gamble illegally offline. "If you block a website, they can go elsewhere," he said.

In his speech, Mr Iswaran noted how Hong Kong allows a limited form of online gambling on horse racing, football and lottery via its Jockey Club. He said a similar model may be considered here.

The Government will also strengthen public education, given the rise of social media games mimicking casino games that can desensitise youth to gambling.

The public can give its feedback on the proposals through the Reach website from today.


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