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Singapore Parliament passes legislation to curtail iGaming

8th October 2014 8:50 am GMT

Singapore’s plans to ban online gaming moved a step closer Tuesday after legislation was passed in Parliament which would restrict the number and type of products that can be offered by exempted licensed operators.

S Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry, said that Singapore had strict laws on gambling to “maintain law and order, and to minimise the potential harm, especially to the young and vulnerable.”

“We prohibit gambling, unless it is specifically allowed for by way of a stringently regulated exemption or license,” he said during the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill in Parliament Tuesday. “We will adopt a similar approach to remote gambling. We aim to achieve this policy intent through a combination of new legislation, stepped up enforcement, and enhanced public education and engagement.”

The Minister said that the bill has two key objectives. First, to tackle the law and order issues associated with online gambling. Second, to protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by online gambling.

“The bill will criminalise the entire spectrum of remote gambling, from individual gamblers to facilitators; agents and runners, to operators,” continued S Iswaran. “The bill also provides for website and payment transactions blocking measures, as well as advertising bans. It has provisions for exemption under stringent conditions.”

S Iswaran maintained that it was not the intent of the bill to prohibit social games, but said that it was essential that the bill was comprehensive in scope in order to “stay relevant over time against the backdrop of a dynamic industry that is continuing to evolve.”

During its second reading, several Members of Parliament expressed their views and raised queries on a range of issues relating to the bill, including Minister Chan Chun Sing who spoke on the social concerns associated with remote gambling and how the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the National Council on Problem Gambling will step up public education and awareness efforts.  

Others queried whether the bill was too broad in its scope, to which S Iswaran replied that the government had deliberately sought to be “comprehensive” in the bill’s coverage.

“If not, it will lack the efficacy and currency in regulating a sector which is innovative in the extreme, fast changing, and quick to adopt new technology,” the Minister added.

He also explained as a matter of principle that the bill does not intend to cover social games in which the players “do not play to acquire a chance of winning money, and where the game design does not allow the player to convert in-game credits to money or real merchandise outside the game.” This includes popular games such as Farmville, Candy Crush and Monopoly.

S Iswaran warned however that the line between social gaming and gambling was increasingly becoming blurred, which is why the legislation has been cast broadly.

“Social casino games are of particular concern as they are designed to simulate real world gambling such as slots and poker and replicate the experience of a casino,” said the Minister. “The only difference is that in-game credits are used. The fact is, and it is quite clear, that the space is diverse; there is a large penumbra and not all social games are as innocuous as some may make them out to be, and I think we need to bear this in mind when we make certain arguments.”

Currently, only Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club are allowed to provide telephone betting and mobile betting applications for their existing products, to registered account holders under the exemption regime within the country’s Common Gaming Houses Act and the Betting Act.

These remote services will be covered under the new bill, which includes a clause allowing currently exempted operators a transition period of up to 6 months after the bill comes into effect to either cease operations or apply for an exemption under the new legislation.

S Iswaran said that exempted operators will be required to put in place “robust social safeguards and responsible gambling measures as well as measures to maintain gaming integrity and address law and order concerns.”

“We will restrict the number and type of products that could be permitted,” he continued. “Casino-type games or poker will not be allowed. I want to emphasise that. We will curtail the range of options significantly.”

Additional social safeguards could include only allowing pre-registered account holders to access the service, imposing a minimum age requirement for registration and not granting betting on credit.

“I have elaborated at length on our approach to the exempt operator and why we have embarked on it,” said S Iswaran. “I have clarified this because it is of material and important concern for all members and the wider Singapore society. This is not about trying to create a new and large channel for gaming online.”

The Minister said that fundamentally, it is a regime that is prohibitive with a comprehensive set of measures.
“The exempt operator, if any, would be subject to very stringent criteria. We expect few to qualify and their operations will be constrained, and it will be for a restrictive set of games.”

In conclusion, the Minister said that the bill was consistent with Singapore’s current prohibitive approach to gambling which is also reflected in existing gambling legislation.

“However, we must recognise that remote gambling is materially different from conventional terrestrial and casino gambling,” he said. “The law and order issues and social concerns it poses are more challenging, given the rapidly evolving and transnational nature of this industry.
 
“This is why we are adopting a multi-pronged strategy. We are introducing comprehensive legislation, stepping up enforcement, implementing a range of blocking measures and broadening public education and engagement.”

S Iswaran said this would be a significant change from the status quo where remote gambling is unregulated and unfettered.

“These measures will help us in no small way to deter illegal remote gambling operators with criminal associations from targeting Singapore.”

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