A week ago, the Government put out the news on how they will be introducing the “tightly controlled” exempt operator regime for remote (or online) gambling. Both Singapore Pools and Turf Club were found to be suitable and were exempted from the Remote Gambling Act, which has been in place since February 2015.

This announcement came after calls from Workers’ Party to have the Government completely disallow online gambling.

What this means for you?

This means that now you can go online to buy lotteries for 4D, Toto, and online betting for football and Formula 1 from Singapore Pools, while Turf Club will offer horse-race betting online. If you’re looking to play some poker – you’re out of luck, casino games such as poker will not be available. Also, both operators would not be able to offer new products without approval (“tightly controlled” mah).

HARH. Doesn’t this mean that people can anyhowly go online and bet?

In turn, Singapore Pools and Turf Club will have to fulfil a number of conditions, including the implementation of social safeguards (young folks below the age of 21 cannot gamble lah, requirement to set daily funding and gambling limits etc). Regular inspections and audits will also be conducted, and if they are found to be non-compliant to the conditions, they could be fined up to $1million for each offence, with a potential revocation or suspension of the certificate.

But still, this is what I imagine the operators to be doing all day now:

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National Council of Churches hits back

National Council of Churches decided that it wants to chap ji kah on the issue. It says that it is “deeply concerned” with the exempt operator regime, and said that the Government was sending “confusing and conflicting signals” with the partial legalisation of online gambling for certain operators.

It also “finds it difficult to accept the rationale that ‘a complete ban would only serve to drive remote gambling underground, making it harder to detect’. That ‘a tightly-controlled valve is allowed as part of the ecosystem to minimise law and order concerns’ cannot be the best option for Singapore” and “serious social problems will be further exacerbated, despite stringent safeguards and controls”.

It is very concerned indeed.

Minister Tan responds

According to Minister Tan, he has spoken to National Council of Churches, together with VWO groups and representatives from religious organisations – and he fully understands and shares their concerns on problem gambling and its ills.

He then highlighted that the problem of online gambling will continue to exist and grow, and would not be completely eradicated. He added that by offering a tightly controlled space/ outlet, it will hopefully help to look out for individuals, manage the problem, and prevent it from growing further. There are safety measures in place for this tightly controlled space, which would be safer as compared to illegal sites.

He also emphasised that this space would not completely solve the problem as there will be individuals who will want to bypass the existing bans and blocks. Public education and support measures would then be important to encourage these individuals to avoid these sites.

Flip-flop, or not?

Although it does seem like the government is flip flopping on its stance towards remote gambling and putting out contradictory messages at the same time – no we don’t encourage online gambling vs oh here’s a platform for you, go forth and bring back that 5 million Toto prize money!

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A complete ban would not make sense – whether it drives the activity underground further remains be seen – but there needs to be a way to tackle the issue of online gambling. The issue will not go away even if we ban it. There is no way you should be ostriching your way out of this. If we want to ban gambling/ online gambling, then the same principle should be applied to other vices (e.g. drinking) as well.

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In a way, the exempt operator regime would give the government a way to watch out for the online gamblers and offer help where necessary, as compared to having online gamblers going to illegal websites to gamble.

Let’s hope that the government will closely monitor the numbers on problem gambling in Singapore, and review its policy regularly to ensure that problem gambling does not worsen in Singapore.

Ultimately, this is about how we, as a society, finds the balance in sharing our space with people with different backgrounds, races and religion – gamblers and non-gamblers alike.