Just as many nations are moving towards online gambling – lured by numbers with lots of zeros and ideas of economic growth – Singapore’s government is considering a move in the opposite direction, weighing up the possibility of a block on remote gambling in the Asian nation.
In order to block residents from gambling online, the government is considering preventing access to online gambling websites, taking away the ability to make payments to remote gambling operators, and banning the promotion of online gambling in advertisements throughout the nation.
The government’s potential measures were announced at a recent symposium on casino regulation and crime by the country’s Second Minister for Home Affairs, S. Iswaran, who explained that the risks that surround remote gambling have grown along with the popularity of the pastime itself in Singapore.
“While such measures may not be foolproof, they will impede access to remote gambling platforms and send a clear signal of the regulatory stance in Singapore,” stated Iswaran. “Remote gambling gives us cause for concern [because] it is ubiquitously and easily accessible through the Internet and mobile applications, especially by a younger and more tech-savvy generation.”
The comparison between the results of two studies illustrates the growth in popularity of online gambling in Singapore as a survey carried out by the National Council for Problem Gambling in 2011 showed that just one percent of respondents had placed bets online. However, a more recent study commissioned by the Ministry for Home Affairs found that almost a third of the 1,000 respondents involved had gambled online during the past year.
The statistics show that 58 percent of those participating in online gambling are males, with 64 percent of those falling between 25 and 44 years old.
“The nature and design of the games, especially poker and casino-type games, lend themselves to repetitive play and addictive behaviour,” added Iswaran.
Growing Gambling Markets
According to analysts, the online gambling market in Singapore is currently valued at S$376 million (US$299.4 million) and is expected to see a steady growth of around six to seven percent each year- assuming it continues to be legal, of course. The growth up until now and the predicted increase is in no small part thanks to the continuing trend in the popularity of smartphones and other mobile tech devices, which make an even larger proportion of the country potential customers.
Adding to the already existing worry of problem gambling, the Second Minister for Home Affairs also explained that it is plausible that remote gambling could become a source for other illegal activities and organized criminal elements, and called for an increase in international collaboration between national enforcement agencies and regulators of the online gambling industry.
“From a law and order perspective, remote gambling operations can potentially become a source or conduit of funds for other illegal activities and syndicated crime,” Iswaran explained. “These operators are beyond our jurisdiction and they operate without restrictions or limitations on the types of games they can offer or the promotions and advertising they undertake.”
However, a blanket ban may not be the direction the government chooses. Alternatively, they could introduce a system similar to Hong Kong’s, whereby limited exceptions are granted to operators who meet a strict set of regulations.
Local media report that a public consultation exercise will take place over the next few weeks in order to get stakeholders to weigh in on the issue, with the new laws expected to be implemented by early next year.