Sunday 12 May 2013

Govt studying measures to curb online gambling

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 11 May 2013

THE Government is coming up with a strategy to tackle the problem of online gambling, which is highly addictive, easily accessible and gaining in popularity here.

"Online gambling is a new and potentially more addictive form of gambling, with greater access to the young and vulnerable," said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday.

A study, led by his ministry, will look at the various options and the experiences of other countries in clamping down on online gambling.

The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

These details were revealed at the Casino Regulatory Authority's (CRA) annual workplan seminar yesterday.

This is the first time the Government is actively targeting online gambling, which has become even more pervasive because of smartphone technology.

Online gambling sites raked in US$342.7 million (S$425 million) from Singapore punters last year, up from some US$300 million in 2011, and US$263 million the year before, according to the Britain- based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants.

The global online gambling industry, estimated to be worth US$400 billion in 2011, is also expected to grow 9 per cent annually, with Asia being a significant market.

Punters do not just bet on the outcome of sports matches on online gaming sites such as Ladbrokes and Betfair.

They can also play poker and other casino games.

With no bar to entry, it is easy for people to place bets on their phones while on the go, on their computers at home or even at work.

Some countries have chosen to block the online sites. Others ban the transfer of money to these sites.

But experts say that it is difficult to clamp down on online gambling because it is a complex and rapidly evolving issue.

Mr Iswaran acknowledged that there are practical challenges "not least because technological change will render complete eradication difficult".

He added that Singapore will study the measures adopted by other countries before coming up with its system.

Yesterday, Mr Iswaran also commended the CRA for its work.

Over the past three years, the number of crimes reported in casinos made up less than 1 per cent of overall crime here.

More than 28,000 attempts by minors and 15,000 attempts by people under exclusion orders to enter the casinos since they opened in 2010 have been thwarted.

S'pore to study online gambling curbs abroad
Experts say even as one gambling site is blocked, new ones will crop up
By Janice Tai And Sabrina Tiong, The Straits Times, 11 May 2013

MEASURES adopted by other countries to tackle online gambling will be studied before Singapore comes up with its own regulatory framework, if necessary, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday.

He was speaking at the Casino Regulatory Authority's (CRA) annual workplan seminar.

He said officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will work with industry experts to examine if such measures are feasible or effective. Amendments to current laws or even new legislation may follow, he added.

Several countries, such as France, Italy and Sweden, choose to block online gambling sites.

However, analysts say that this may be a problem.

"The sites may reside on (computer) servers hosted in countries that have legalised them," said Britain-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants' chief executive Warwick Bartlett.

The United States does not block such sites. Instead, it passed a law in 2006 which bans US-based banks and credit card firms from transferring funds to gambling sites based outside the country.

Assistant Professor Natalie Pang of Nanyang Technological University, who researches social media and online behaviour, said blocking the sites is easier to do, but restricting the flow of funds is more effective.

"There is already software that tries to block sites, but there are many ways to get around it," she said.

Mr Bartlett agreed, citing the example of countries in Europe which tried to restrict access to the sites but met with little success.

"The resource required is considerable and it would seem that those intent on exploiting the loopholes have been quite successful," he said.

Places such as Hong Kong and Norway have taken another approach by permitting a limited number of state-approved companies to offer online gambling.

Australia has added a twist to this. Its licensing regime allows online gaming businesses to target anybody, except its own residents.

Addictions specialist Munidasa Winslow said moves to curb online gaming may not go down well with Singaporeans because it may be seen as the Government trying to control the Internet.

But online gambling is a rising problem, as he is seeing more online gamblers seeking help.

He said football betting and casino games are two of the most popular types of online gambling here.

Experts caution that even if the measures adopted by other countries are successfully implemented here, regulators and operators may end up playing a cat-and-mouse game.

"It will always be there - even if you block a site, there will always be new ones popping up," said Mr Chan Boon Huat from One Hope Centre, which counsels gambling addicts.

Mr Iswaran acknowledged as much and urged the CRA to stay abreast of emerging trends and challenges.

"The online gambling landscape is complex and rapidly evolving," he noted.

"These risks (of online gambling) will likely be magnified as the technology supporting online gambling further evolves."

Too easy to get hooked on Internet gambling
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 11 May 2013

DRESSED in his pyjamas and sitting on his sofa, Mr Chiu Whye Leong would just turn on his computer to be in the thick of casino action.

The 32-year-old only had to log on to live games run by underground syndicates based in Macau and the Philippines each night. He would place bets as the dealer dealt the cards in real time.

"A game is really going on overseas, recorded live via webcam, and gamblers from different parts of the world can join the same table," said the former gym trainer, who quit gambling two years ago.

"If you wish to contest the results, you can call the overseas number. You actually see the phone ringing on your screen," he added, explaining the allure.

Such illegal sites let punters join in without having to fork out cash or to authorise a credit card deduction upfront.

Local bookies will instead give punters, who are accepted only on recommendation through trusted contacts, free credit, a code and a website address where they can place their bets.

Wins and losses are settled face-to-face with the bookie or through bank transfers a few days later. Fail to pay, and the bookie will hound the gambler or introduce him to loansharks.

Mr Chiu would gamble online at work and at home for around four hours each day, and he built up a debt of more than $20,000.

He dipped into his savings and pawned his Rolex watches.

He stopped gambling online after growing suspicious that the games were rigged. "I took screenshots and realised that the games were either rigged or played wrongly. So, I went to gamble on cruise ships instead," he said.

He finally quit gambling two years ago with the help of a close friend, who never stopped counselling him.

Said Mr Chiu, who now works in a social enterprise which helps at-risk youth and former offenders: "The danger of online gambling is that it's too easy.

"Far too comfortable and easy."

Meanwhile, the Casino Regulatory Authority and the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre are working together to examine the psychological profiles of local casino gamblers to develop a better understanding of what drives people like Mr Chiu into gambling.

Findings from the research, which is scheduled to be completed next March, will aid the formulation of gambling regulatory policies.

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