Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said that the legislation aims to tackle law-and-order issues associated with remote gambling, and to protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed by remote gambling.
This is his reply to the questions asked by Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai, MP for Marine Parade GRC, on what are the considerations in the grant of an exempt operator licence for online gambling and in the grant of such a licence, what specific measures will be taken to contain and control the potential of remote gambling to cause harm especially to young persons, vulnerable persons and society at large.
Mr Lee said that the Remote Gambling Act (RGA) was passed by Parliament in October 2014 and came into force in February 2015.
He stated that the RGA provides for a general prohibition of remote gambling. It criminalises the entire spectrum of remote gambling activities and puts in place a comprehensive set of website- and payment-blocking measures. It also provides for a tightly controlled Exempt Operator regime. When the act was passed, that was the framework: prohibition with a tightly controlled valve.
Mr Lee stated that remote gambling is a significant and fast-growing sector. Global remote gambling activities was estimated to be around US$40 billion in 2015, and had grown at an annual rate of 6-8% over the past five years. At this rate, the remote gambling market will double in size roughly every ten years.
In Singapore, members of the public are not immune from these global trends, given the high internet and smartphone penetration rates.
Data provided by IDA showed that in 2014, the mobile penetration rate in the country was at a whopping 148%, while the global average then was 93%. Similarly, in 2014, the internet penetration rate in the country was 73% versus a global average of 35%.
Mr Lee said that the Government has effected a general prohibition, with robust enforcement and comprehensive blocking measures to stem the growth of remote gambling within Singapore since the RGA came into force.
“The nature of the internet is such that it is not possible to completely block access to illegal gambling websites. We would be mistaken to believe that illegal online gambling does not exist. Determined gamblers can circumvent website-blocking measures by using virtual private networks or through proxy websites,” he said.
“Since February 2015, Police have arrested more than 120 persons for remote gambling activities,” he added.
Mr Lee stated, “Taking a realistic and clear minded approach, a complete ban on remote gambling will drive demand underground, and create larger incentives for criminal syndicates to target Singaporeans. Hence, the RGA, when passed, provided for a tightly-controlled Exempt Operator regime.”
“The exemption regime complements our strategy of general prohibition and blocking measures. It has to be seen in totality, as an entire ecosystem of framework and measures, which working together, tries to reduce law-and-order and problem gambling concerns,” he said.
Mr Lee said that the Government’s stance towards gambling does not change and it does not promote gambling. He compared it to drinking and smoking, saying, “Although we discourage drinking and smoking, we do not have a complete ban. Instead, we manage the potential harm through regulations and public education.”
Pointing that as the illegal gambling exists today, Singapore cannot wish away the presence of underground markets, where criminal activities abound, and signs of problem gambling go about undetected.
He stressed that what the Exempt Operator regime aims to achieve, is to provide a regulated and controlled outlet, to divert activities from illegal operators. And that It is an integral part of its strategy to deal with the problem of remote gambling, complementing the general prohibition of remote gambling, blocking of access and payments to illegal sites, strict enforcement, promotion of awareness and personal responsibility through public education, and outreach and engagement.
Unfortunately, Mr Lee did not respond the question which asked what specific measures will be taken to contain and control the potential of remote gambling to cause harm especially to young persons, vulnerable persons and society at large