Public Consultation on Proposed Framework to Restrict Remote Gambling
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is seeking feedback on the proposed framework to restrict remote gambling in Singapore.
2. Remote gambling refers to the use of platforms that include the Internet, telephone and other communication technologies to facilitate gambling.
3. The global remote gambling industry is large and growing rapidly. In 2012, the revenue of the global remote gambling industry was estimated at US$35b, with an expected annual growth rate of about 9%. This is about 5 times the expected growth for terrestrial gambling.
Regulatory Approaches Vary Across Jurisdictions
4. Many countries have been reviewing their regulatory regimes to keep pace with this rapidly evolving industry. Internationally, there is a wide spectrum of regulatory approaches taken by different countries. Some countries such as France and the United Kingdom (UK) have an open remote gambling market with many licensed operators offering a wide array of gambling products. In 2010, France authorised three online gambling products (poker, sports betting and horse racing) and opened its market to competition based on a system of licences. France issued 31 licences to 20 remote gambling operators in 2013. In the UK, there is no limit on the number of licences which may be issued and licences are of unlimited duration. Licensed operators in the UK are also permitted to offer a wide variety of gambling products including casino-type games.
5. Other countries take a more restrictive approach to remote gambling. Typically, they have allowed one to two operators to offer a small number of products, subject to requirements including social safeguards. In Norway, remote gambling is offered by two state-owned operators - Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto. Both state-owned operators are subject to a strong system of social safeguards. In addition, its regulatory and licensing system prohibits commercial operators from operating in Norway, to protect the population from the potential negative effects of gambling. Both state-owned operators channel surpluses to social causes such as charities, sports and culture.
6. In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) is the sole licensee that offers horse racing, Mark 6 Lottery and football betting through both terrestrial and remote gambling platforms. Under the terms of its licence, HKJC is obliged to implement responsible gambling (RG) practices such as a minimum age limit, no betting on credit and the prominent display of RG messages. HKJC is a not-for-profit organisation which uses its surplus revenue to support charitable and community projects as well as social welfare initiatives.
7. Many jurisdictions have also implemented various blocking measures to prevent unauthorised operators from targeting their citizens. France, Italy and Denmark have implemented measures to block access to unauthorised gambling websites. In the UK, it is an offence for unlicensed gambling operators to target its residents or advertise through online and terrestrial channels. Norway and the United States require financial intermediaries to block payment transactions with unauthorised gambling operators.
Government to Restrict Remote Gambling
8. In Singapore, we have strict laws on gambling to maintain law and order and to minimise the potential harm, especially to the young and vulnerable. Under our laws, the provision of gambling is not permitted unless specifically allowed for by way of an exemption or licence. However, our current laws do not expressly address remote gambling as they were enacted before the Internet era.
9. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other government agencies have been studying the issue of remote gambling. In a 2011 Gambling Prevalence Survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), 1% of the respondents said that they had gambled online. While this is low, we are cognizant of the growing popularity of remote gambling and the associated risks. Some analysts estimate the size of the remote gambling market in Singapore to be over US$300m, and it is expected to grow by 6-7% annually.
10. Compared to terrestrial gambling, remote gambling gives us greater cause for concern. First, it is ubiquitously and easily accessible through the Internet and mobile applications, especially by a younger and more tech-savvy generation. In a recent online survey of around 1,000 Internet users commissioned by MHA, we found that almost 3 in 10 respondents had gambled remotely at least once in the past year. This is not surprising as one can gamble anonymously from almost any location at any time.
11. Second, the nature and design of the games, especially poker and casino-type games, lend themselves to repetitive play and addictive behaviour. This is well documented in both local and overseas research. International studies show that problem gambling rates are about three to four times higher among online gamblers as compared to offline gamblers.The 2011 NCPG survey found that online gamblers had poorer self-control, were more likely to gamble at a higher frequency, for a longer duration, and with more money than they had initially planned. Problem gambling counselling centres have also witnessed an increase in the number of online gamblers approaching them for help.
12. Third, 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. 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.
13. It is therefore important that we take proactive steps to address these concerns. As an extension of our current approach to terrestrial gambling, the Government intends to restrict remote gambling by making it illegal unless there are specific exemptions. We will introduce new laws to give our law enforcement agencies the powers to act against facilitators, intermediaries and providers of remote gambling services. We will introduce measures to block access to gambling websites, block payments to remote gambling operators and prohibit advertisements promoting remote gambling. While such blocking measures may not be foolproof, they will impede access to remote gambling platforms and send a clear signal of our regulatory stance in Singapore
14. To divert gambling away from unauthorised and unregulated operators, some jurisdictions like Hong Kong have allowed a limited form of remote gambling through a strictly regulated authorised entity. We will study carefully in detail whether to provide an exemption in Singapore and if so, the nature of provisions for a tightly controlled exemption regime, with constraints on the type of operator and the imposition of stringent social safeguards. We will study the experiences of other jurisdictions in this regard.
Strengthening Public Education
15. Apart from remote gambling products, games that simulate gambling are rising in popularity on social media platforms. The distinction between social gaming and online gambling is blurring, with some games on social media platforms closely modelled on casino-style games, such as slots/jackpots and poker card games. These seemingly harmless games can desensitise youths to the dangers and ills of gambling.
16. To address this, we will strengthen public education with regard to remote gambling and gambling simulation games. The NCPG will broaden and intensify public education efforts to raise awareness of the risks involved. At the same time, MSF will work closely with NCPG and other stakeholders such as educational institutions, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), the Media Literacy Council, cyber-wellness groups and parent groups to implement public education and outreach initiatives.
Request for Feedback
17. We would like to seek your views on the proposed approach to restrict remote gambling in Singapore.
Submission of Comments
18. The public is invited to send its feedback to us by 10 Jan 2014, 5.00 pm to the following email address: MHA_remotegambling_consultation@mha.gov.sg. We would like to request that you identify yourself and the organisation you represent (if any) when submitting your feedback.
Summary of Responses
19. We regret that we will not be able to separately address or acknowledge every single comment we receive. However, we will consolidate and publish a summary of the key comments received, together with our responses, on the REACH website after the consultation exercise closes. The summary will maintain confidentiality of the feedback received and we will not disclose the identity of the person(s) providing the feedback.