SINGAPORE: Parliament on Friday (Mar 11) passed a Bill to legalise social gambling as well as criminalise underage and proxy gambling, while prohibiting more vulnerable people from gambling as part of tighter safeguards.
The Gambling Control Bill will increase penalties for unlawful gambling both physically and online, and impose stiffer penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate unlawful gambling services.
It also introduces licensing for key gambling products as well as class licensing regimes for lower-risk gambling products like online games with gambling elements.
Separately, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore Bill will set up the Gambling Regulatory Authority around mid-2022. The authority will regulate the entire gambling landscape in Singapore which is currently overseen by multiple agencies.
The Gambling Control Bill will specifically provide an exemption regime for physical social gambling among family and friends in homes, something which is not prohibited under current law.
For gambling to be considered social, it must take place in someone’s home and participants have to be from the same family or know each other personally.
The gambling must also not be conducted in the course of any business or for the private gain of someone beyond the game’s winnings.
But MP Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied) questioned what "concrete policy gain" this change provides, since social gambling was not illegal in the first place.
"On one hand, the Government has said in the past that the law can and should reflect social norms and attitudes," he said.
"As a matter of logical consistency then, should the Government not be cautious about making social gambling explicitly legal, so as to avoid being seen as issuing an official stamp of approval for gambling?"
In response, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said the exemption will regularise the current practice and provide clarity to the public that social gambling is allowed when it is with family and friends, including minors, at home.
"Social gambling will only be allowed in a person’s home, and will not be allowed in places like hotels and chalets," he said, stressing that the exemption does not change the Government’s approach towards gambling but instead acts as a social safeguard.
"Individuals should exercise personal responsibility in deciding whether to allow underaged individuals to engage in such activities."
The Gambling Control Bill will explicitly make it illegal for people under 21 to gamble. Additionally, under the Bill, it will be an offence for those under 18 years old to gamble at Singapore Pools’ physical outlets.
The minimum ages for gambling are already prescribed in existing laws.
Mr Giam also asked if the minimum gambling age can be streamlined to 21 years old to "ameliorate the pernicious effects of gambling" on young people, their families and society in general.
In response, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua said his ministry does not plan to harmonise the minimum ages at this point.
"But nonetheless, MSF recognises that it's important to reduce early exposure to gambling. MSF will work closely with MHA and the Gambling Regulatory Authority to constantly review our social safeguards to minimise the risk of problem gambling and gambling-related social harms," he said.
The Gambling Control Bill will criminalise proxy gambling in casinos and fruit machine rooms. Proxy gambling refers to people in a gambling area who act on the instruction of a “decision maker” outside the area, the Ministry of Home Affairs had said.
“This should be prohibited as the decision maker would have bypassed the entry checks put in place to screen out individuals such as those under entry bans,” the ministry said.
MP Louis Chua (WP-Sengkang) asked how casino operators are going to help enforce against proxy gambling, highlighting this practice had migrated to other countries in Asia after it was banned in Macau in 2016.
Mr Tan said casino staff are trained to detect proxy gambling, and tell-tale signs include players constantly checking their mobile phones and appearing to receive instructions while gambling.
"Casinos will be liable to regulatory action, like financial penalties, if they fail to enforce this," he said.
ARE NFTs A FORM OF GAMBLING?
MP Yip Hon Weng (PAP-Yio Chu Kang) then asked if non-fungible tokens (NFT) could be considered as gambling due to the amount of speculation involved.
Mr Tan said that most NFTs currently do not fall under the regulatory remit of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), as they are used mainly to tokenise digital art and other collectibles.
Should an NFT have the characteristics of a capital markets product under the Securities and Futures Act, it will be subject to MAS’ regulatory requirements, and therefore exempted from the definition of betting under the Gambling Control Bill, he said.
"Creating or trading NFTs is not considered gambling, unless there is an element of chance involved in their creation or trading," he added. "However, gambling services that use NFTs as stake or prize will be covered in our gambling legislation."