SINGAPORE: Underage and proxy gambling will be an offence, while more people will be prohibited from gambling under tighter safeguards proposed in a Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday (Feb 14).
The Gambling Control Bill proposes to increase penalties for unlawful gambling both physically and online, and impose stiffer penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate unlawful gambling services.
The wide-ranging draft law will also define and exempt social gambling, and introduce licensing for key gambling products as well as class licensing regimes for lower-risk gambling products like online games with gambling elements.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a press release on Monday that the Bill will help gambling regulations keep pace with the evolving landscape, as technology makes gambling more accessible and blurs the lines between gambling and gaming.
“To stay ahead of technological and global trends, respond more adequately to emerging gambling products, and make a more holistic and coherent approach to gambling issues, we should rationalise and consolidate,” MHA said.
This comes after MHA in July last year invited the public to give feedback on these proposed amendments. The ministry said on Monday it has taken into account stakeholders’ feedback.
If passed, MHA said it will repeal the four existing gambling-related laws – the Betting Act, Common Gaming Houses Act, Private Lotteries Act and Remote Gambling Act.
The Bill will also amend the definition of gambling to make it technology-neutral to cover existing and emerging gambling products.
“For example, the scope of betting will go beyond horse racing and sporting events to include the outcome of any competition, event or process,” MHA said, adding that financial products regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore will not be considered gambling.
Separately, a Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore (GRA) Bill – also introduced on Monday – proposes to 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.
At the moment, the Casino Regulatory Authority regulates the casinos, MHA’s Gambling Regulatory Unit regulates online gambling services and fruit machines, the Singapore Totalisator Board governs physical gambling services operated by Singapore Pools, and the police enforces against unlawful gambling activities.
MSF is responsible for social safeguards to address the harms of gambling.
The Gambling Control Bill proposes to 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.
“It will also be a criminal offence for underaged individuals to enter gambling areas, except where entry checks are not required,” MHA said.
Singapore Pools’ physical outlets are excluded from this offence as they are not required to conduct entry checks, the ministry explained.
“These outlets are open areas with easy access, and underaged individuals may enter unknowingly with no intention to gamble,” MHA added.
It will also be an offence for excluded individuals, including undischarged bankrupts and those getting financial assistance from the Government, to gamble and enter gambling areas across all platforms and locations. This rule is currently in place for casinos.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said in a separate statement that it will extend this exclusion programme to all tenants and occupiers on the Public Rental Scheme. Currently, the exclusion programme covers such tenants with six or more months of rent arrears.
“This change will minimise negative effects of gambling on them and their families,” MSF said.
Operators that gamble with underaged or excluded individuals, or allow such individuals to enter gambling areas, will be liable for an offence or disciplinary action by the Gambling Regulatory Authority.
The Bill will also 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, MHA 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.
For example in 2019, a woman had asked a friend to place wagers at a gaming machine in the casino on her behalf, MHA said, adding that it was unable to take both of them to task as it was not an offence.
The Bill will increase penalties for unlawful gambling to “send a strong deterrent signal to criminal syndicates”, MHA said.
For instance, it will impose mandatory jail term for agents and operators of unlawful gambling activities, and stiffer penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate unlawful gambling services.
The Bill will apply a three-tier penalty structure for illegal online gambling – currently prescribed in one of the gambling laws – across all forms of gambling for consistency.
Under the structure, the highest penalties are imposed on operators, as their culpability is greater than that of agents, followed by punters.
Under the Bill, a punter who gambles with an unlicensed gambling service could be jailed for up to six months, fined a maximum of S$10,000, or both. This is up from a maximum fine of S$5,000 and/or six months' jail under current law.
An operator that conducts unlawful betting operations, gaming or lotteries could be jailed for up to seven years and fined a maximum of S$500,000. This is harsher than the penalties under current law, where imprisonment for this offence is not mandatory. Repeat offenders also face up to 10 years' jail and a maximum fine of S$700,000.
The Bill will make it easier to disclose offences related to the advertising and promotion of illegal physical gambling, by removing the need to link them to the involvement of actual gambling. This is already the case for the advertising of illegal online gambling, like social media advertisements for online casinos.
The Bill will also license key gambling products, including by letting the Gambling Regulatory Authority issue gambling operator licences for products such as fruit machines, Singapore Pools’ offerings both physical and online, and gambling at private establishments like clan associations and recreational clubs.
“The licensing regime will allow GRA to more effectively require operators to uphold law and order and address social concerns,” MHA said.
“It will also allow GRA to hold operators accountable for their conduct of gambling, and screen operators and their management to ensure that they are fit and proper to offer gambling products.”
MSF said private clubs operating fruit machine rooms must, from Nov 1, 2022, educate patrons about responsible gambling, problem gambling and help services, and assist patrons who show signs of problem gambling.
For “lower-risk” gambling products like online games with gambling elements, mystery boxes from a vending machine or low-risk lotteries, the Bill will introduce class licensing regimes, meaning operators offering such products need not be individually licensed. This is not expected to have a large impact on users.
The authority will keep oversight and introduce safeguards to ensure such products do not induce gambling behaviour and cause social problems, MHA said.
“For example, we intend to impose a class licence for mystery boxes sold by retailers and impose safeguards such as capping the retail value of prizes at S$100,” the ministry said, adding that details for each class-licensed activity will be released when ready.
Finally, the 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.
“Police will take strong enforcement action against criminal syndicates that seek to exploit this exemption to conduct illegal gambling activities,” MHA said.
Online social gambling will continue to be prohibited, the ministry said, as it would be difficult to establish if participants are “sufficiently and meaningfully acquainted” with each other online.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said in a statement that his ministry will strengthen social safeguards to protect those who are financially vulnerable, and continue partnering gambling help agencies.
“We strongly support the legislative enhancements made by MHA, which will further minimise the harm of gambling to vulnerable groups, such as minors,” he said.