Singapore: Draft Bill To Criminalise Online Gambling

By Lauren Silk

The Remote Gambling Act 2014 was introduced to Singapore Parliament for first reading on 8 September 2014. This Act adds to Singapore’s already stringent anti-gambling laws by criminalising online gambling.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore said that “the bill will prohibit all forms of remote gambling activities unless exempted”.  The only exemptions  are to government backed entities such as Singapore Pools and the Turf Club, which will be able to offer online products, subject to the discretion of the Ministry.

As highlighted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the key provisions of the Bill are as follows:

a) Introduce blocking measures
The Bill provides the powers to implement website access blocking and payment blocking. Websites that may be blocked include those that provide, facilitate or advertise remote gambling. Financial institutions will be instructed to block transfers to accounts linked to persons involved in unlawful remote gambling activities.

b) Criminalise remote gambling activities
The Bill will prohibit all forms of remote gambling activities unless exempted. It will be an offence for persons to gamble remotely, facilitate others to do so, transmit and receive bets and provide remote gambling services. The Bill will also criminalise the act of assisting unauthorised operators. This will give the Police more powers to deal with agents, intermediaries, operators and syndicates. The restrictions within the Bill will apply so long as any part of the gambling activity takes place in Singapore, regardless of where the bet is placed or where the remote gambling operator is located.

c) Prohibit Remote Gambling Advertisement and Promotion
The Bill will make it an offence to advertise and promote any form of remote gambling activity. The prohibition covers all forms of media, both electronic and non-electronic, e.g. internet, broadcast, print media, billboards and hoardings.

d) Protect young persons
Separate offences will be created, with stiffer punishments provided, for those who invite or facilitate young persons (aged below 21 years) to gamble remotely and those who employ young persons in the provision of remote gambling services. Anyone who abets a person under 21 to gamble remotely could be fined between $20,000 and $300,000 and jailed for six years.

e) Provide for tightly controlled exemption regime
An entity can apply to be an exempt operator if it meets certain qualifying criteria. The entity should be based in Singapore; be not-for-profit; contribute to public, social or charitable purposes in Singapore and have a good track record of compliance with Singapore’s legal and regulatory requirements. Exempted entities will be subject to strict operating conditions, in the areas of social safeguards, responsible gambling, gaming integrity and law and order.

The proposed bill has extra territorial powers which captures overseas operators. Overseas operators  must apply “reasonable diligence” in preventing Singaporeans from online gambling, or face a fine of USD 400,000 or seven years in prison. This is similar to the social controls imposed by extra territorial powers in other act; The Prevention of Corruption Act gives extra territorial effect to the corruption offence in section 37 of the Act which ensures that Singaporeans paying bribes overseas will be treated as if they are paying a bribe within Singapore.

What remains to be seen is how this Act will take into account user technology tools which have the ability to hide from the online gambling provider the country from which the internet is accessed.  The Act requires overseas providers to check the identity of the gamblers to ensure that they are neither in Singapore nor under 21 – however with the ability to mask the country from which the site is accessed , this will likely prove near impossible for providers. Off shore gambling operators will have a defence if they can prove that with reasonable diligence they were unable to ascertain that the service they provided has a Singapore customer link. Wide enforcement powers will be given to the police and the Media Development Authority Singapore under this act – these powers include:

  • General powers of enforcement;
  • The power to enter and search premises;
  • The power to direct the blocking of website access; and
  • The power to direct the blocking of payment transactions.

Added to this is the use of e-wallets. Debit and credit card providers in Singapore have for a long time blocked with banks any online transactions and payments to gambling websites. E-wallet companies like Paypal are on the rise and it has been commented upon that if they have no presence in Singapore, complying with this law may not be at the top of their priority list.

On top of this, some have suggested that the impunity with which new gambling sites pop up will prevent Singapore from blocking every single online gambling site and make it very difficult to eradicate online gambling in Singapore.