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Pritam Singh: A need to prevent the scourge of online gambling in Singapore

Mr Pritam Singh, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, delivered a speech in Parliament on 7 November about his concern on online gambling in Singapore,

In his speech, Mr Singh voiced his objection against the government’s decision to allow exempt gambling operators in Singapore, pointing that numerous academic studies have found that online gambling is more addictive than other types of gambling, and that online gamblers have higher rates of gambling addiction than traditional gamblers as internet greatly increased the accessibility of gambling.

Citing a 2015 study in Spain that found a significant increase in pathological gamblers two years after the legalisation of online gambling in that country,  it is said that the problem was found to be especially serious among young people – online gambling has become the main form of pathological gambling among people below 26 years old in Spain.

He further pointed out that online gambling has another dark side, that problem and pathological gamblers can place bets using their smart phones without their friends and family members even noticing, unlike when they visit the casinos or go to the Turf Club. This as Mr Singh noted, removes a very important informal safeguard against problem gambling.

“An important part of addiction treatment is for the problem gambler to avoid putting himself in situations which could tempt him to lapse back to his bad habit, for example, by avoiding casinos, jackpot rooms or other physical locations where gambling is available. However, it would be impractical to expect a problem gambler to refrain from using his mobile phone or computer as these are needed for modern day work and personal communication.” said Mr Singh.

While the accusation of the government wanting to raise revenue through online gambling will be refuted vigorously, but the fact remains that a large part of legalised gambling revenue goes into the state’s coffers. Mr Singh said that this will only fuel 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 said that the government should not be gambling with the lives of Singaporean families.

While it has been argued that exempt operators provide an ‘outlet’ for gamblers and allow the government to manage crime associated with gambling. But the assumption behind this argument is that gamblers who were gambling on illegal overseas gambling websites will switch over to the exempt operators’ websites or apps.

Asking if the Government found any studies to show that people will actually switch over to exempt operators, Mr Singh noted that most likely, local gambling apps that have a stamp of approval by the government will attract people who have previously never gambled online.

This may include many young people who may not relish queuing up at Toto outlets or going to the races at the Turf Club, but may experiment with gambling for the first time from the privacy of their phones. The legalisation of online gambling will thus expand the gambling market, rather than provide a safe outlet for existing gamblers. Once started, online gambling, like soft drugs, could be a gateway to more serious gambling addictions.

Did the government planned to allow Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf club to be exempt operators in the very beginning?

The Government reportedly told the National Council of Churches Singapore (NCCS) that it was not sending conflicting signals with the partial lifting of the ban on online gambling because the exemptions had already been written into the Bill back in 2014.

Mr Singh noted that this would appear these exemptions were written specifically with Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club in mind.

Pointing out the timeline:

  • October 2014: Remote Gambling Bill passed.
  • July 2015: Singapore Pools and STC apply for exemptions.
  • July 2015: Straits Times reports that Singapore Pools had hired OpenBet to replace its website with one that can offer sports betting, and the contract is estimated to be worth $10 million.
  • 15 September 2016: Singapore Pools and STC were reported to be running final tests on their new online betting websites.
  • 29 September 2016: The Government grants exemptions to Singapore Pools and STC.
  • 25 October 2016: Singapore Pools launches new online betting website, although this was not widely reported in the mainstream media.

He said in Parliament that $10 million is no small sum and it would be a huge gamble to sink $10 million into a contract without knowing it would pay off.

“Yet more than one year before the exemptions were granted, Singapore Pools appeared to have done exactly that. In the eyes of the public, it would seem that the yearlong evaluation of the applications was conducted with one outcome in mind – to find a way for Singapore Pools and the Turf Club to carry out online gambling operations. Was the process meant to determine whether or not the applications should be approved, or to determine how they could be approved? To this end, will the Minister inform this house under what circumstances the Government will review the exemptions granted currently to Singapore Pools and the Turf Club and how it plans to review them in an on-going manner?”

As for existing safeguards by the government to prevent gambling addicts from harming themselves and their families, such as self-exclusion and third party exclusion, Mr Singh said that The Government says that the surreptitious nature of online gambling addiction means that such proof will be hard to obtain.

Mr Singh on his view on the safeguards towards the exempted operators, “The best safeguard is to lessen the avenues for Singaporeans to get introduced to gambling. Legalising online gambling is a step in the wrong direction.”

To view Mr Singh’s full speech, visit here