Published: 14 February 2022
1. The Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore Bill (“GRA Bill”) and the Gambling Control Bill (“GC Bill”) were introduced for First Reading in Parliament today. The GRA Bill expands the mandate of the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA), by reconstituting the Statutory Board to establish the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA), which will regulate the entire gambling landscape in Singapore. The GC Bill updates gambling laws and regulatory approaches to keep pace with the evolving gambling landscape.
2. The Government adopts a strict but pragmatic approach towards gambling. Gambling is prohibited unless licensed or exempted. We allow some forms of gambling in a controlled and safe environment, as total prohibition will drive even more gambling underground. Our approach aims to minimise the social harms of gambling, and maintain law and order.
3. Our approach has delivered good outcomes. First, gambling-related crimes remain low. The number of people arrested for unlawful gambling activities has remained stable from 2011 to 2020. Second, problem gambling remains under control. Based on the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)'s Gambling Participation Surveys, probable pathological and problem gambling rates have remained relatively stable, at around 1%.
4. However, we need to make sure that our laws and regulations can address two trends in the gambling landscape. First, advancements in technology. The Internet and mobile computing have made gambling products more accessible. Second, the boundaries between gambling and gaming are blurring. Business models have adapted to changing customer preferences by introducing gambling elements in products that are traditionally not perceived as gambling.
Establishment of the GRA
5. Gambling regulation in Singapore is currently overseen by various Government agencies. The CRA regulates the casinos; the Gambling Regulatory Unit in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) regulates online gambling services and fruit machines; the Singapore Totalisator Board governs physical gambling services operated by Singapore Pools; and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) takes enforcement action against unlawful gambling activities. The Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for social safeguards to address the harms of gambling.
6. To stay ahead of technological and global trends, respond more adequately to emerging gambling products, and take a more holistic and coherent approach to gambling policies and issues, we should rationalise and consolidate. The GRA Bill will establish the GRA as the single regulator for all forms of gambling. We aim to establish the GRA in mid-2022.
Amendments to Gambling Legislation
7. To ensure that our gambling laws remain effective, we will amend them, starting with the new GC Bill that covers unlawful gambling offences and regulation of non-casino gambling. We will correspondingly repeal the Betting Act (BA), Common Gaming Houses Act (CGHA), Private Lotteries Act and Remote Gambling Act (RGA). In formulating our amendments, we have taken into account feedback provided by stakeholders during our engagement sessions, and those from the wider public through the REACH public consultation conducted in July/August last year.
Address New Trends in Gambling
8. Definition of Gambling. The GC Bill will amend the definition of gambling to make it technology-neutral, so that it can cover existing and emerging gambling products. For example, the scope of betting will go beyond horseracing and sporting events to include the outcome of any competition, event, or process. This definition will not cover products that MHA has no intention of treating as gambling products, such as investments in financial products already regulated by Monetary Authority of Singapore through other legislation (e.g. Banking Act, Insurance Act, and Securities and Futures Act).
9. Social Gambling among Family and Friends. Social gambling activities are commonplace amongst many Singaporeans. Social gambling is not disallowed by current legislation. The GC Bill will specifically provide an exemption regime for social gambling among family and friends conducted in homes. Police will take strong enforcement action against criminal syndicates that seek to exploit this exemption to conduct illegal gambling activities. Online social gambling will not be exempted, however, as it would be difficult to establish if individuals are sufficiently and meaningfully acquainted with each other in the online context to qualify as social gambling.
10. Licensing Regimes. We will license key gambling products. The GC Bill will allow GRA to issue gambling operator licences for products such as fruit machines, Singapore Pools’ products (both physical and online), and gambling at private establishments. The licensing regime will allow GRA to more effectively require operators to uphold law-and-order and address social concerns. It will also allow GRA to hold operators accountable for their conduct of gambling, and screen operators and their management to ensure that they are fit and proper to offer gambling products.
11. Class Licensing Regimes. We will introduce class licensing regimes for lower-risk gambling products. Operators offering such products do not need to be individually licensed. GRA will maintain oversight and introduce safeguards so that such products do not induce gambling behaviour and cause social problems. For example, we intend to impose a class licence for mystery boxes sold by retailers and impose safeguards such as capping the retail value of prizes at $100. Details on the conditions for each class-licensed activity will be released when the relevant subsidiary legislation is ready.
Update and Harmonise Gambling Offences
12. Penalties for Unlawful Gambling. The GC Bill rationalises offences and penalties across the four existing pieces of gambling legislation. A three-tier penalty structure will be applied consistently for unlawful gambling offences across online and physical unlawful gambling activity, and differentiating between punters, agents, and operators. The highest penalties will be imposed on operators, as their culpability is highest, followed by agents and then punters.
13. Penalties for unlawful gambling will also be enhanced, to send a strong deterrent signal to criminal syndicates. The GC Bill imposes mandatory imprisonment for agents and operators of unlawful gambling activities, taking reference from the BA and CGHA. It will also have higher penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate unlawful gambling services.
14. New Offence of Proxy Gambling. Proxy gambling in casinos and fruit machine rooms will be criminalised under the GC Bill. Proxy gambling refers to individuals within the gambling area acting on the instruction of a decision maker outside the gambling area. This should be prohibited as the decision maker would have bypassed the entry checks put in place to screen out individuals of concern such as those under entry bans. For example, there was a case in 2019 where an excluded individual had asked a friend to place wagers at a gaming machine in the casino on her behalf. However, we were unable to take these individuals to task, as proxy gambling was not previously criminalised.
Enhance Social Safeguards
15. Offences Pertaining to Under-aged Individuals. Under the GC Bill, 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. Correspondingly, we will introduce two social safeguard offences pertaining to under-aged individuals. First, it will be a criminal offence for under-aged individuals to gamble, regardless whether with legal or unlawful operators. It will also be a criminal offence for under-aged individuals to enter gambling areas, except where entry checks are not required. Singapore Pools’ physical outlets are excluded from this offence as they are not required to conduct entry checks. These outlets are open areas with easy access, and under-aged individuals may enter unknowingly with no intention to gamble.
16. Offences Pertaining to Excluded Individuals. Similar to the offences for excluded individuals who gamble and enter gambling areas of the casinos under the Casino Control Act, we will introduce offences pertaining to excluded individuals, who will not be permitted to gamble and enter gambling areas across all platforms and locations where NCPG exclusions are applicable (i.e. fruit machine rooms and Singapore Pools’ online gambling). This will not apply to individuals under Self Exclusion, similar to the situation in the casinos today, to avoid deterring individuals from applying for this exclusion.
17. Operators that gamble with under-aged or excluded individuals, or allow such individuals to enter gambling areas, will be liable for an offence or disciplinary action by GRA.
18. Offences related to Advertising and Promotion (A&P). Currently, the threshold for proving an A&P offence is lower for unlawful online gambling (under the RGA), compared to unlawful physical gambling (under the BA and CGHA). For online gambling, an A&P offence can be disclosed even if there is no online gambling involved. However, for physical gambling, there is a need to link the A&P offence to actual unlawful physical gambling activities. We will update our laws to be consistent in the treatment of A&P offences across gambling modalities, taking reference from today’s threshold for online gambling.
Updating Casino-related Laws
19. We will table on a later date, the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill to enhance GRA’s effectiveness in regulating the casinos, and ensure the continued relevance of casino regulations. More details will be released in due course.