Singapore Parliament House / photo:

MP Pritam Singh rebuked in Parliament by Desmond Lee for saying government wants to make money through online gambling

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs, Desmond Lee, reacted strongly to the speech of the MP for Aljunied GRC, Pritam Singh, concerning the online gambling in Singapore, at the Parliament House on 7 November.

“The idea that the government is trying to make money out of online gambling is the most disturbing thing I’ve heard this evening,” Mr Lee said in Parliament on 7 November.

Mr Singh had stated his objection on the online gambling and his speech included thoughts of the impact of online gambling on the young and the low income, raising revenue but abandoning other important values of society, and the hardships to implement sufficient safeguards.

Mr Lee was responding to a part of Mr Singh’s speech which had said, “The most common reaction I’ve heard from Singaporeans with the news of the issuing of the exempt operator license is that the government just wants to make more money.“

The part of Mr Singh’s speech that Mr Lee had problem with, “The most common reaction I have heard from Singaporeans to the news of the issuing of exempt operator licenses is that the Government just wants to ‘make more money’. While am sure the Minister will refute this accusation vigorously, the fact remains that a large part of legalised gambling revenue goes into the state’s coffers. Is providing for exempt operators a way to redirect gambling spending away from illegal overseas operators to local operators, which are owned by the Tote Board? If so, this only fuels public speculation that the Government simply wants a piece of the huge global internet gambling pie, and that this is a revenue-raising exercise done at the expense of Singaporeans’ welfare.”

Mr Singh also commented on the notion that legalised gambling revenue from the two exempt operators, some of which goes to charities, provides a way to redirect gambling away from illegal overseas operators. He said, “This is a morally questionable argument that is akin to saying it’s okay to harm some people in order to help others.”

But following this part, Mr Singh continued, “Since problem gambling disproportionately affects the poor, collecting revenues from online gambling is in effect a regressive tax on the most vulnerable in our society.”

In further response to Singh’s speech, Mr Lee noted that the Workers’ Party had recommended a total ban on online gambling, but had not explained on how other countries have solved the problem of online gambling addiction with a total ban.

Nor was there any explanation as to why Singapore’s approach and that of the likes of Norway and Hong Kong, on which the government had adapted its gambling regulation system from, is inferior, Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also said the Ministry of Home Affairs continues to watch over internet traffics to blocked and new gambling sites. Last month, he told the House that online gambling in Singapore in 2015 was worth as much as $461 million, “A total ban will create larger incentives for criminal syndicates to target Singaporeans,”