It looks like Singapore is going to regulate online gambling.
Today, the government announced plans to make online gambling services illegal, unless there are specific exemptions.
The majority of the government announcement focused on how new laws would give enforcement agencies the powers necessary to act against the operators of online gambling services, and how website, payment and advertisement-blocking technologies will restrict the use of these services. This is in line with previous government announcements on the subject, which have tended to be about protecting the vulnerable from the risk of addiction.
However, it is the “unless there are specific exemptions” part of the announcement that the gambling industry will be focusing on. It suggests that the government is considering a limited licensing model, such that a limited number of operators, subject to strict licensing conditions, may be permitted to operate online gambling services. In other words, industry will see at least a potential opportunity to operate legitimate services in Singapore.
The legal position as it stands today is somewhat unclear. There are no specific laws to regulate online gambling in Singapore and there is considerable scope for uncertainty because the relevant laws were drafted pre-internet. The general consensus is that the operation of online gambling services targeted at Singapore citizens is likely to fall foul of the existing laws but there is no express law to that effect. The laws are unlikely to apply to (or at least be enforced against) offshore operators not based in Singapore.
The potential prize for operators of these services is significant. It is estimated that the size of the remote gambling market in Singapore could already be US $300 million, and it is expected to grow at a rate of around 6-7 per cent annually (although the position will of course depend to a large extent on the approach to regulation). Surveys carried out by the Home Affairs Ministry suggest that almost one in three internet users had gambled online in the last year.
It now seems that the government has recognized the need to regulate to bring certainty to the legal and regulatory position.
From here, there will be a public consultation exercise, with various stakeholders consulted (likely, one assumes, to include online and land-based operators, ISPs and payment services providers) before any new law is put in place. However, things could move quickly and it seems certain that Singapore has now taken its first big step towards regulating online gambling.
Featured Image: Singapore by Luca Sartoni