SINGAPORE: Online betting will become legal in Singapore under strict conditions, after the Government approved the applications of two operators, Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club.
In a statement on Thursday (Sep 28), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the two have been “found suitable” to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act (RGA), which came into force in February 2015. The two operators plan to launch online services by November.
Turf Club and Singapore Pools will offer online gambling for existing games and lotteries. Singapore Pools will have lotteries for 4D and Toto, and online betting for football and Formula 1. Turf Club will offer horse-race betting online. Neither is allowed to offer new products without approval and casino games such as poker will not be available.
The ministry said Singapore Turf Club applied for exemption certificates in May last year, while Singapore Pools did so in July 2015. It said their exemption certificates, valid for three years, were approved after they met a list of criteria that included operating on a not-for-profit basis, having their surpluses channelled to social and charitable causes, and keeping services free from “criminal influence”.
The operators will also have to implement socialsafeguards, such as ensuring only those aged 21 and above are able to open player accounts and that punters are not gambling on credit. They will also be required to set daily funding and gambling limits.
The ministry said operators will be subject to regular audits and inspections. If either of the operators fail to comply with the conditions, they could be slapped with a penalty of up to S$1 millionfor each offence, as well as a potential revocation or suspension of its certificate.
Besides the financial penalties, MHA can also vary the exemption conditions, suspend and ultimately revoke the operators’ exemption status if they are unable to meet the conditions set. “These would be strong incentives for the management of the exempt operators to ensure that they comply with the conditions,” it said, adding that the operators’ not-for-profit status “reduces the incentive for them to pursue commercial benefits at the expense of their social responsibilities”.
MITIGATING LAW AND ORDER CONCERNS
The Act prohibits all gambling activities online and over the phone, and since February, the ministry said “several hundred” online sites have been blocked. It said it has also blocked bank accounts and credit card transactions linked to remote gambling payments.
The ministry’s statement comes two days after the Workers’ Party called on the Government to reject applications for online betting services. The WP’s Assistant Secretary-General, Pritam Singh said: “When the Government decided to clamp down on remote gambling in 2014, it cited concerns about addictive behaviour and easy access to these games. Should the Government approve their applications, Singapore Pools and STC will have 24/7 virtual betting outlets available in almost every home and mobile device”.
An online petition against the legalisation of online gambling in Singapore is also making the rounds on social media. As of Thursday, it had more than 12,000 signatures.
But the ministry said even with robust enforcement and application of blocking measures, it is not possible to completely eradicate unauthorised remote gambling in Singapore. For example, there continues to be Web traffic from Singapore to unauthorised remote gambling sites, MHA said.
It added that illegal gambling operations also still exist, as more than 120 people have been arrested for remote gambling offences since February 2015. While illegal football-betting activities are more commonly known, MHA said they are not the only products offered by the underground operators, illegal public lotteries being an example. Some of these operations may also be linked to transnational syndicates, it added.
“A complete ban on remote gambling drives demand and activities underground, and may create larger incentives for criminal syndicates to target Singapore,” said MHA. “The greater the extent of underground illegal activities, the greater the risk to law and order, and the greater the danger to individuals who might be involved in underground remote gambling.”
The ministry added that the tightly-controlled exempt operator regime is intended to complement strong enforcement actions and blocking measures under the Act. “Other jurisdictions like Hong Kong and Norway also adopt a similar approach – allowing regulated operators to complement a general prohibition on remote gambling.”
"THOROUGH ASSESSMENT" CONDUCTED: MHA
MHA said it has not received any applications to be exempt apart from the two operators. “The criteria and conditions for exemption certificates are very stringent. We do not expect many operators to qualify.”
Asked why the applications took more than a year to process, MHA said exemption certificates will not be granted unless it is “fully satisfied” that an applicant can meet stringent criteria set out in the Act, and this requires a “thorough assessment”.
MHA also explained that checks were required to determine the applicants are not-for-profit, that the applicants’ directors and key officers had not been convicted of offences in Singapore, and the applicants had a consistent record of compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, amongst other things.
“In addition, time was taken to assess that the applicants can meet the conditions that MHA will impose on them,” MHA added. “This required a review and audit of relevant processes and systems.
"Furthermore, as this is a new regime, the applicants needed time to develop the necessary systems, policies and procedures to offer services that would comply with MHA’s requirements.”
MHA said the operators will be issued their exemption certificates once they launch their online gambling services over the next two months. The Singapore Turf Club plans to launch its online wagering platform, iTote, on Nov 15, which will allow account holders to place wagers on horse racing online. Singapore Pools will launch an enhanced Singapore Pools Account service on Oct 25 that will allow customers to place bets online.