Published: 11 March 2022
1. Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, I beg to move that the Gambling Control Bill now be read a second time.
2. Sir, the Gambling Control Bill is related to the next Bill, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore Bill. With your permission, I would like to propose that the substantive debate on the two Bills be taken together now. This allows for a more efficient and holistic debate, and enables Members to raise questions or express their views on both Bills at the same time.
Approach towards Gambling
3. Mr Speaker, Singapore adopts a strict but pragmatic approach towards gambling. Gambling is prohibited unless licensed or exempted. The Government does not encourage gambling, but allows some forms of gambling in a controlled and safe environment. Total prohibition will drive gambling underground and cause more law-and-order and social issues.
4. These two Bills will not change this approach, which has worked well for Singapore.
a. Gambling-related crimes remain low, and the problem gambling situation remains under control with robust social safeguards.
5. That said, two emerging trends can have a significant impact on the gambling landscape:
(a) First, technology has changed the way people gamble.
(i) People can now gamble anywhere and anytime through their smart phones and electronic devices. This has led to an increase in online gambling. The percentage of online turnover for Singapore Pools’ sports betting has grown in the past five years from 30% to 80%.
(b) Second, the boundaries between gambling and gaming have also blurred, which may normalise gambling behaviour, if unchecked.
(i) We see new forms of gambling emerging. The younger generation prefers products with an element of skill compared to just purely based on chance.
(ii) Businesses have also adapted by introducing gambling elements in products that were traditionally not perceived as gambling, such as mystery boxes.
6. So to keep pace with this evolving gambling landscape, we will amend gambling legislation to establish the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore, or GRA, as the single regulator for all forms of gambling. GRA will continue to work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), to protect Singaporeans from all harms of gambling, and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) will continue to be responsible for enforcement against illegal gambling activities.
7. Sir, allow me now to go through each Bill in turn.
Gambling Control Bill
8. First, the Gambling Control Bill.
9. The Bill essentially consolidates the existing laws regulating gambling outside the casinos.
(a) It replaces the Betting Act (1960), the Common Gaming Houses Act (1961), the Private Lotteries Act (2011) and the Remote Gambling Act (2014), which will all be repealed.
(b) The Bill makes consequential and related amendments to the Casino Control Act (2006), and other related Acts.
10. The Bill seeks to achieve three key objectives.
(a) First, we want to address emerging trends and products, like mystery boxes and loot boxes in video games.
(b) Second, we want to ensure consistency in our regulatory treatment of different products. As I mentioned, our current regulatory mechanisms for gambling are presently distributed across legislation enacted over 64 years, and they are organised along the gambling products, and the modality of gambling.
(c) Third, we want to enhance social safeguards.
11. In formulating the Bill, we took in feedback from stakeholders engaged between April 2020 and August 2021, including social service agencies, religious groups, industry groups and also the wider public.
12. Mr Speaker, I will now highlight the main clauses of the Gambling Control Bill.
Address Emerging Trends in Gambling
Definition of Gambling
13. Part 1 of the Bill introduces the fundamental concepts and the purposes of the Bill.
14. We will amend the definition of gambling to make it technology-neutral to cover existing and emerging gambling products. Clause 4 defines gambling as betting, gaming activity and participating in a lottery, similar to the Remote Gambling Act.
(a) Clause 5 expands the definition of betting from the Remote Gambling Act to go beyond horseracing and sporting events, to also include:
(i) The outcome of a race, competition, sporting event or other event or process;
(ii) The likelihood of anything occurring or not occurring; or
(iii) Whether anything is or is not true.
(b) Clause 5(2) excludes products that MHA has no intention of treating as gambling products, such as investment in financial products already regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
15. To address the transnational nature of online gambling activities, Clause 11 states that the definition of remote gambling covers situations where the facilities are outside of Singapore whether in part or in full. The prohibition and offences apply even if the offenders reside overseas, as long as their customers are in Singapore, similar to the Remote Gambling Act.
16. Currently, physical social gambling is not disallowed under the Common Gaming Houses Act and the Betting Act. Such activities are commonplace amongst many Singaporeans, such as playing mahjong at home and law-and-order concerns are low.
17. Clause 12 defines “social gambling” and exempts physical social gambling, as long as it meets the following key conditions:
(a) First, the gambling activity must be conducted in an individual’s home. This excludes public places such as void decks, coffeeshops, hotels and chalets.
(b) The participants must be members of the same family or know each other personally.
(c) And third, the activity must not be conducted for the private gain of any person who are not participating in the gambling or in the course of any business; and no participant should be able to obtain a benefit other than winning. For example, no commission, charges or fee should be sought from the participants.
18. Online social gambling will continue to be disallowed. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain whether participants are socially acquainted online.
19. Police will be practical in enforcing social gambling breaches but we will be firm against criminal syndicates that exploit the exemption to conduct illegal gambling.
Licensing Gambling Products
20. We will continue to allow some forms of gambling in a controlled and safe environment. Parts 4 and 5 of the Bill provide for licensing persons providing gambling services, and regulating associated aspects such as the gambling venues, the games and the gaming machines.
(a) The licensing regime will replace the various gambling permit and exemption regimes under today’s gambling legislation.
21. Part 4 Division 1 of the Bill allows GRA to issue licences to gambling operators for certain gambling products. These are fruit machines for recreational clubs, Singapore Pools’ products, and gambling among members at private establishments such as recreational clubs and societies.
(a) In granting or renewing licences, GRA will consider the factors set out in Clause 54.
(b) To mitigate law-and-order concerns, Clause 55 allows GRA to screen operators and their management to assess their suitability.
(c) In particular, MHA will introduce a new licensing regime for gambling among members at private establishments such as social clubs and clans.
(i) Currently, private establishments do not need to apply for a licence in order to have gambling in their premises. They are legally allowed to provide gambling in games such as mahjong for their members within their premises through an exemption regime, so long as they meet stipulated conditions such as the types of games allowed and the number of participants.
(ii) While this arrangement has worked well over the years, we are concerned with signs of illegal gambling taking root in private establishments.
(iii) To address this, we propose to move to a licensing regime. Once the Bill comes into force, private establishments will have to apply for a licence. This will allow us to screen key personnel of their eligibility to hold a gambling operator licence. We will also introduce surveillance requirements for the purpose of enforcement to these licensed private establishments. That said, MHA will continue to adopt a risk-calibrated approach to address the risk of criminal exploitation.
22. Part 4 Division 2 introduces a class licence regime for GRA to regulate lower-risk gambling products, including mystery boxes, online games with gambling elements, and business promotion lucky draws.
(a) A class licence regime differs from a licensing regime in that an operator does not need to apply for a licence. The class-licensed operator can operate as long as the stipulated conditions, to be specified in subsidiary legislation, are met.
23. Clause 140 and the Second Schedule contain the saving and transitional provisions for existing permits and exemptions under the current legislation. We would like to highlight a typographical error in the Explanatory Statement. Persons who are exempt under current laws can continue providing the gambling service for a fixed period of 5 to 12 months, instead of 2 to 5 months as stated.
Update and Harmonise Gambling Legislation
24. Now, let me move on to the provisions that update and harmonise gambling legislation.
Unlawful Gambling Offences
25. We have rationalised offences and penalties across the existing gambling legislation. Part 2 of the Bill sets out the offences pertaining to gambling operations, gambling places, gaming machines and others.
26. All gambling activities will be prohibited unless they are licensed or exempted, regardless whether it is conducted online or physically. Unlawful gambling activity will be an offence for all persons involved – from the gambling operators, to the agents, and the individual punters.
27. We will apply a three-tier penalty structure for unlawful gambling offences, differentiating between:
(a) The operators, who set up the unlawful gambling activity;
(b) The agents, who facilitate the conduct of the activity; and
(c) The punters, who participate in the activity.
28. The highest penalties will be imposed on operators, as their culpability is highest, followed by agents and then punters.
29. We will enhance the penalties for unlawful gambling to send a strong deterrent signal to criminal syndicates. The Bill imposes mandatory imprisonment for operators and agents of unlawful gambling activities, similar to existing Acts. We will impose higher penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate and operate unlawful gambling services.
30. We will also criminalise proxy gambling in fruit machine rooms and casinos, in Clauses 28 and 135(1) respectively. Proxy gambling occurs when an individual gambles on behalf of another person, thereby circumventing entry checks which is meant to screen out persons specially under entry bans. The offence will only apply to casinos and fruit machine rooms where the law-and-order and social concerns are higher, but not to other settings like the Singapore Pools’ outlets.
(a) For example, in 2018, an individual who was bankrupt and excluded from the casino actually asked his wife to gamble in the casino on his behalf. We were unable to take them to task at the time, as proxy gambling was not criminalised previously.
Presumptions and Evidence
31. Part 3 of the Bill sets out the evidence and presumptions to aid Police and authorised officers in effecting arrests and initiating investigations. Many of the presumptions are present in existing gambling legislation.
(a) We have included a new presumption in Clause 46 relating to inducement to gamble. A person who is referred to in the inducement for payment or further information is presumed to have sent the inducement unless he proves his lack of consent and involvement in the sending of the inducement. In the case of inducement of under-aged students in schools through direct marketing materials, the sender is presumed to have known that the students receiving them were already under-aged, unless he proves otherwise. This will allow for more effective prosecution of such persons.
Powers Granted to Police Officers and Authorised Officers
32. Part 9 of the Bill grants powers to Police and authorised officers, defined in Clause 122, to take enforcement actions for gambling-related crimes.
33. These powers include requiring a person to furnish information, as well as the powers of entry, inspection and seizure.
34. Clause 112 confers powers of arrest without warrant to an authorised officer, such as a GRA officer, over any individual reasonably believed to have committed an arrestable offence under this Act.
(a) Unlike Police officers, the power to arrest can only be exercised in specific situations, such as in approved gambling venues.
35. Clause 123 provides for the appointment of compliance officers by GRA with the approval of the Minister.
(a) GRA employs these outsourced private sector experts to assist with compliance audits.
(b) We have tightly scoped the powers conferred on these individuals, to only obtaining information for their assessment in Clause 110.
36. Clauses 117, 118, and 120 detail the access blocking and payment blocking regimes related to unlawful online gambling activities, similar to the Remote Gambling Act.
Enhance Social Safeguards
37. Mr Speaker, I will now explain the provisions that enhance social safeguards.
38. The minimum age for gambling will remain at 21 years old, except for gambling at Singapore Pools’ physical outlets, which will remain at 18 years old, as set out in Clause 13.
39. Related to this, we will introduce three sets of offences pertaining to under-aged individuals.
(a) Clause 31 criminalises gambling by under-aged individuals. This sends a strong deterrent signal to under-aged persons that they should not be gambling.
(b) Clause 32 criminalises entering gambling areas by under-aged individuals, for example, when an under-aged person enters a fruit machine room. Singapore Pools’ physical outlets are excluded from this offence, as it is impractical to implement entry checks for these outlets. We will also criminalise opening of online gambling accounts with Singapore Pools by under-aged persons.
(c) To better protect under-aged persons, we will also criminalise (i) gambling with under-aged individuals, with the exception of social physical gambling, in Clause 30, (ii) inducing under-aged individuals to engage in gambling that is not social physical gambling in Clause 34; and (iii) employing under-aged individuals to conduct gambling in Clause 35.
Excluded Individuals and Entry Bans
40. Currently, exclusion orders are issued under the Casino Control Act by NCPG, Commissioner of Police, and the Casino Regulatory Authority, or CRA.
(a) The Casino Control Act provides that exclusion orders issued by NCPG prevent persons from entering the casinos to mitigate the harm of gambling to the excluded persons and their family. In addition, individuals under NCPG’s exclusion orders are also prevented from entering fruit machine rooms or accessing Singapore Pools’ online gambling services using operators’ exemption or permit conditions. That is, they are barred administratively instead of through provisions in the gambling legislation. That’s today.
(b) Exclusion orders issued by Commissioner of Police and CRA also prevent persons from entering the casinos as these persons pose law-and-order or regulatory concerns. However, there are no legislative provisions to allow Commissioner of Police and CRA to prevent persons from entering fruit machine rooms or accessing Singapore Pools’ online gambling services.
41. Clause 134 codifies the current exemption or permit conditions in law, to allow NCPG to issue exclusion orders to persons to prevent them from entering fruit machine rooms and from betting on Singapore Pools’ online gambling products, in addition to being excluded from the casinos.
42. We will also introduce an entry ban by law enforcement agencies and GRA in Part 6 Division 1 to ban individuals who pose law-and-order or regulatory concerns from entering fruit machine rooms and accessing Singapore Pools’ online gambling products.
43. Currently, the Remote Gambling Act, the Betting Act and the Common Gaming Houses Act criminalises advertising and promoting unlawful gambling. However, the threshold for proving an advertising and promotion offence, or an A&P offence, for unlawful online gambling today is lower than that for unlawful physical gambling.
(a) For online gambling, the offence can be made out as long as there is A&P for gambling, without the need to prove that the promoted site actually provides gambling.
(b) However, for physical gambling, there is a need to link the A&P offence to actual unlawful physical gambling. This sets a higher bar and imposes enforcement difficulties.
44. Hence, to address this difference in thresholds, Clause 85 introduces an offence for advertising unlawful gambling where we will apply the threshold that we currently have for online, to physical gambling. Hence, for physical gambling, there is no need to link the A&P to actual unlawful physical gambling.
(a) While this lowers the threshold for physical unlawful gambling, we have provided defences in Clause 86, such that any person would not be guilty of an offence if they can prove that they published the advertisement as an accidental or incidental accompaniment to the publication of another matter and did not receive any benefit from the A&P.
(b) GRA will also be empowered in Clause 87 to order corrective measures on persons advertising unlawful gambling.
45. Madam Deputy Speaker, in Mandarin please.
Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore Bill
48. Madam Deputy Speaker, I will now move on to the GRA Bill.
49. Gambling regulation in Singapore is currently overseen by various Government agencies. These are CRA, the Gambling Regulatory Unit in MHA Headquarters, the Singapore Totalisator Board, the Police, and MSF.
50. We propose to expand CRA today to form GRA as the single regulator for all forms of gambling, to pool and optimise resources and expertise across the Government.
51. I will outline the pertinent aspects of the GRA Bill.
52. Part 2 of the Bill establishes GRA as a body corporate similar to other statutory boards. Clause 5 outlines GRA’s functions, which include:
(a) Regulating gambling activities in or affecting Singapore to ensure that it is conducted honestly and free from criminal influence and exploitation;
(b) Fostering responsible gambling and minimising harms caused by gambling; and
(c) Setting and maintaining standards and accountability for the conduct of gambling.
53. Parts 3 to 6 of the Bill contain the corporate governance provisions of GRA, aligned with the Public Sector (Governance) Act.
54. Part 7 of the Bill contains provisions for the administration and enforcement of the Bill.
55. Part 8 of the Bill makes consequential and related amendments to other Acts, including the Casino Control Act, the Gambling Duties Act and the Singapore Totalisator Board Act.
56. Part 9 of the Bill provides saving arrangements in ensuring continuity of matters despite the renaming of CRA and the amendments to the Casino Control Act.
57. Madam Deputy Speaker, the Gambling Control Bill and the GRA Bill aim to consolidate and update our gambling regulations and laws. These Bills are necessary to ensure that we continue to address the law-and-order and the social concerns arising from gambling, and also to keep pace with the evolving gambling landscape.
58. I beg to move.