Published: 11 March 2022
1. Mr Speaker, first let me thank Members Mr Louis Ng, Mr Gerald Giam, Mr Louis Chua, and Mr Yip Hon Weng for their support for the two Bills. Parl Sec Eric Chua has addressed Mr Ng’s and Mr Giam’s questions and suggestions on social safeguards and public education efforts. Let me now address the remaining comments and queries.
Updating Our Gambling Laws
Social Gambling Exemption
2. Mr Giam asked about the exemption on physical social gambling. As Mr Giam pointed out, currently, physical social gambling is already not disallowed. Such activities are commonplace amongst many Singaporeans, such as playing mahjong at home, especially during the Chinese New Year festival and law-and-order concerns in this aspect are low.
3. The exemption will regularise this current practice and provides clarity to the public that social gambling is allowed when it is with family and friends at home. This includes social gambling with minors. Social gambling will only be allowed in a person’s home, and will not be allowed in places like hotels and chalets, which Mr Chua was asking about, and since covering non-residential places under the exemption could be exploited by criminal elements.
4. The exemption on social gambling does not change the Government’s approach towards gambling. In fact, we are tightening and why is this so?
(a) Today, physical social gambling is not disallowed. So, we see in common places, people playing mahjong and card games.
(b) With this Bill, we are actually making it clear that social gambling is allowed, subject to conditions. These conditions, as I mentioned earlier on, are currently not present in law. These conditions, if you think about it, act as social safeguards.
5. Individuals should exercise personal responsibility in deciding whether to allow under-aged individuals to engage in such activities.
Approach Towards Online Gambling
6. Mr Yip and Mr Chua both asked how the amendments to gambling legislation would impact the management of cross-border online gambling and illegal online gambling. Similar to the Remote Gambling Act, the Gambling Control Bill will cover situations where the facilities are outside or partially outside of Singapore.
7. A key part of our strategy to combat illegal online gambling is our blocking measures for illegal online gambling websites as well as advertisements that can be accessed in Singapore, as well as the payment services that are linked to illegal online gambling. GRA will continue to have the powers to carry out these blocking measures, if necessary.
8. But no blocking measures are foolproof, as members also highlighted. Hence, the blocking regime has to be complemented by strong enforcement by Police on illegal online gambling activities which happen in Singapore, and allowing Singapore Pools to offer legal online gambling services which in turn allow us to have better control of the services provided.
9. As for text messages promoting illegal gambling activities, cited for example for illegal football betting by Mr Chua, Police will continue to take enforcement action against them. Members of the public can also help by reporting them through the Police i-Witness portal.
10. Mr Ng asked about the defence in Clause 34 on inducement to underaged individuals to gamble.
11. The offence of inducement to gamble in Clause 34 has strict liability. This means that a person commits an offence once he sends out any inducement to gamble, and with no need for the prosecution to prove the intent to induce.
(a) We need to structure this offence as a strict liability offence to allow for more effective prosecution. Illegal gambling operators who send such inducements will often claim that they had unintentionally sent an inducement to underaged individuals.
(b) However, on the other hand, it is not our intention to cover scenarios where sending the inducements do not benefit the accused and are not sent in the course of business.
(c) What this means, for example, is a person without any links to the illegal gambling operator could have forwarded a screenshot of gambling inducement to a WhatsApp group with underaged individuals inside, and he does it as educational material or warning material to warn the group members on the harms of illegal online gambling.
(d) Hence, the defence clause allows the accused to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that he or she did not benefit from the inducement or the messages that are sent out.
12. Mr Yip and Mr Giam asked how chance-based loot boxes in online games will be regulated. In particular, Mr Yip asked about how our laws on gambling advertisements will apply to activities with an optional gambling element, such as loot boxes in online games.
13. Currently, our laws and regulations do not consider chance-based loot boxes as gambling as long as there are no in-game monetisation facilities. These are facilities that allow players to exchange virtual prizes for real world payouts, such as money or merchandise. This position is set out in IMDA’s 2015 advisory on the scope of Remote Gambling Act. It does not matter whether the loot box is optional or intentional.
14. Correspondingly, the prohibition on gambling advertisements would not apply if these online games are not considered illegal gambling.
15. Mr Giam asked if loot boxes will be considered as a lottery if virtual rewards cannot be monetised in the real world. Since these virtual rewards have no real world value, such loot boxes will not be considered gambling under the Gambling Control Bill. This is in line with our current approach, which has served us well in trying to strike a balance between leisure and entertainment and safeguarding against gambling inducement.
16. We agree with Mr Yip that a blanket restriction on the advertising of online games would not be practical, especially since these games are perceived by many as leisure and entertainment. We will be reviewing the landscape of online games of chance. This will include how to regulate advertisements of online games of chance that fall in the definition of gambling under the Gambling Control Bill.
17. Now, let me talk a bit on the entry bans. Mr Ng asked for more details on the entry bans.
(a) The Commissioner of Police entry ban is issued to persons to prevent or reduce criminal influence or exploitation in the management and operation of regulated gambling activities, and to maintain gaming integrity in the gambling services. It is targeted against persons who pose law-and-order concerns. Law enforcement agencies will consider the individual's criminal records, as well as other criminal history, including warnings and discharges not amounting to an acquittal. For example, this could include persons previously convicted of offences related to syndicated criminal activity.
(b) For the GRA entry bans, the reference to the individual’s character or reputation is to cater for cases where the person has displayed a pattern of disregard for the law that might actually undermine the regulatory regime. These could include persons investigated by GRA, who repeatedly refused to come forward to assist with the investigations for instance.
(c) The time periods of entry bans will be calibrated based on the seriousness of the law-and-order concerns and gaming integrity concerns that the person presents.
Safeguards for Under-aged Individuals
18. Parl Sec Eric Chua spoke about the upstream education efforts targeted at under-aged individuals, addressing Mr Giam’s questions on the age requirements on the various gambling products. Let me touch on the other safeguards for under-aged individuals that are covered in the Bill.
19. First, there are safeguards to prevent under-aged individuals to gambling, or exposing them directly to gambling activity. For example:
(a) There is a minimum age of gambling. The Gambling Control Bill introduces offences on under-aged individuals gambling or entering gambling areas. This sends a strong deterrent signal to under-aged individuals that they should not be gambling.
(b) The Gambling Control Bill also introduces an offence for proxy gambling, which will deter under-aged persons from circumventing the entry controls.
(c) The GRA will also impose conditions on class-licensed products such as mystery boxes to address the normalisation of gambling. The details will be released later, when we introduce the subsidiary legislation.
20. Second, safeguards to limit inducement of under-aged individuals to gambling. The Gambling Control Bill criminalises the inducement of under-aged individuals to gamble as I have covered earlier, and we will also continue to impose controls on advertising and promotion.
21. Mr Chua asked about how casino operators are going to help enforce against proxy gambling. There are various ways today to detect proxy gambling in casinos, and casino staff are trained to detect it. Some indications include players constantly checking their mobile phones and appearing to receive instructions while gambling. Casinos will be liable to regulatory action, like financial penalties, if they fail to enforce this.
Addressing Emerging Trends in the Gambling Landscape
22. Mr Yip pointed out that non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, could be considered as gambling due to the amount of speculation involved. Mr Chua also spoke about this topic. NFTs are a form of digital token, where each token has distinct and unique features that are verified and secured by blockchain technology. MAS takes a technology-neutral stance and “looks through” to the underlying characteristics of the token to determine if it is to be regulated. Most NFTs currently do not fall under MAS’ regulatory remit, as they are used mainly to tokenise digital art and other collectibles. But should an NFT have the characteristics of a capital markets product under the Securities and Futures Act, it will be subject to MAS’ regulatory requirements, and therefore exempted from the definition of betting in Clause 5 of the Gambling Control Bill.
23. Creating or trading NFTs is not considered gambling, unless there is an element of chance involved in their creation or trading. However, gambling services that use NFTs as stake or prize will be covered in our gambling legislation.
Establishment of the GRA
24. Mr Chua asked how GRA can stay ahead of the developments and innovations in online games. We agree and that is why the formation of GRA will give us the capabilities and expertise to monitor this landscape for new gambling products, and update our regulations if required.
25. Mr Yip asked for details on the consolidation of gambling regulatory functions across various agencies. As I mentioned earlier, gambling regulation is currently overseen by various Government agencies. For example, CRA regulates casinos; the Gambling Regulatory Unit in MHA today regulates online gambling services and fruit machines; and the Singapore Totalisator Board governs Singapore Pools’ physical gambling services.
26. There will be synergies from consolidating gambling legislation and regulation. As the single regulator for all forms of gambling, GRA will be able to pool resources and expertise together to deal with the issue. This will allow GRA to keep pace with trends in the gambling landscape more effectively, and take a more holistic and coherent approach to gambling policies and issues.
27. The establishment of GRA will be resource neutral across the Government. Manpower will be transferred together with the transfer of function. This will not lead to an excess of employees. In addition to overseeing existing regulatory regimes, GRA will also oversee new regulatory regimes, such as the new licensing regime for gambling in private establishments and class-licence regimes for low-risk gambling products.
28. Mr Speaker, by establishing the GRA and updating our gambling laws, the Bills will go a long way to ensure that we continue to be able to minimise the social and law-and-order concerns arising from gambling activity in Singapore. Once again, I thank Members in this House for their support.
29. Sir, I beg to move.