Online easing comes with restrictions, meets opposition

Calling it a “safer option” for gamblers, Singapore’s Ministry of Finance has relaxed rules on online gambling to allow the island’s two incumbent operators – Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club – to offer internet services.

The easing comes some 18 months after Singapore implemented one of the world’s most draconian bans in the online gaming sphere and was immediately met with opposition from anti-gambling and church groups. The National Council of Churches called on the government to reconsider, while the Office of the Mufti also warned about the perils of online gambling.

Since the Remote Gambling Act came into force in February 2 last year, several hundred online gambling sites have been blocked, as well as bank accounts and credit card transactions linked to remote gambling payments.

However, the blocking regime was not a sure-fire way to stop locals from accessing illegal gambling websites.

“VPNs are an issue in Singapore and not just in gambling,” said Matt Pollins of Olswang Asia, the night before the Ministry posted its announcement. “I think there is evidence to suggest people will find overseas services to use and they will use technology solutions to bypass geoblocks.”

This is likely why a door was left open under Section 26 of the Act in 2015 for an eligible operator to obtain a certificate of exemption.

Genting Q3 profit tops forecasts

Genting Singapore posted better-thanexpected Q3 profit, helped by a focus on higher margin business and managing operational efficiency. Net profit for the quarter was S$136.6 million, compared with $66.9 million reported in the prior year period. Third quarter revenue was down 9 percent to $581.5 million, from S$636.1 million in the previous year.

Casinos improve social safeguard standards

The Casino Regulatory Authority imposed $417,500 in financial penalties on Singapore’s two casino operators in 2015, up from $282,500 the prior year, according to its annual report. However, the number of social safeguard breaches declined as both casino operators have taken steps to strengthen their processes. “The casino operators have shown responsiveness and commitment to comply with the regulatory requirements, and have taken remedial actions where there are gaps."

“You can close down sites, but new sites will be set up, sometimes faster than you can close them down,” Tan Chuan-Jin, the Minister for Social and Family Development said after easing the ban. “It is a global market with a lot of money to be made, and the worst thing is that it is unregulated and there are no safety measures in place.”

Waiting game

Singapore’s not-for-profit lottery and gambling operators, Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club, had been waiting nearly two years to tap into this new channel.

The exemptions, as expected, came with a stringent set of conditions. According to a document from the Ministry of Home Affairs website, players must be over 21 years of age and will be required to adhere to daily expenditure and funding limits.

Gambling on credit or gambling while being on any casino exclusion list is prohibited.

From the operator side, a self-exclusion system and the provision of responsible gambling information would be required.

The operators must also implement a notification system which alerts the player of daily deposits and winnings or losses. The player will also receive alerts when 75 percent of the expenditure limit has been exceeded.

Stiff sanctions

A time counter must be visible indicating the amount of time that has elapsed since the player logged onto an account, as well as publication of the odds of winning and providing players with monthly statements of gambling activities.

The Ministry also noted the exempt operators will be “subjected to regular audits and inspections.”

“If an exempt operator contravenes or fails to comply with the conditions, regulatory sanctions may be imposed, as provided for by the RGA. Sanctions include a financial penalty of up to S$1 million ($732.8 million) for each instance of noncompliance, a direction restricting the exempt operator’s remote gambling service and the revocation or suspension of the exemption certificate,” it said.

Yap Wai Ming, partner of Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, said the government’s key focus is the protection of young persons from gambling.

“For remote gambling to take place in Singapore, they will want to make sure it does not encourage the young IT savvy folks to get addicted to gambling,” he said.

“When you look at the remote gambling act in Singapore, you’ll see there is a focus on preventing young persons from being groomed into the industry. In fact they say there is a serious penalty if anybody is found to target young people, those under 21 years old, to gamble,” he said.

Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club will need to offer a “very strong robust internal system for age verification.”

Data collection

Other conditions, such as setting a limit on how much one can gamble - is something that is particularly well suited to the data-heavy nature of online gambling, says Yap.

“Singapore is very good at collecting statistics. If someone gambles once too often, you’ll probably be able to see that data if it comes from the same [betting] account.”It actually even offers some advantages over land-based outlets.

“As opposed to now, when someone goes to a physical gaming outlet, they queue up and they pay over the counter. It’s anonymous.”

Singapore locals shouldn’t expect to see any variation in betting products either.

“The exempt operators are allowed to offer remote gambling only for their existing products, namely: 4D and Toto lotteries and football and F1 sports betting for Pools; and horse-race betting for STC,” said the Ministry, adding that new bet products cannot be offered without prior approval.” 

“The exempt operators are not allowed to offer casino-style games or poker,” it added.

While Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club put the finishing touches on their online betting capable systems, it remains to be seen whether there is still room for outside suppliers to get their piece of the action.