Friday 16 September 2016

Online betting to be allowed from October 2016 via Singapore Pools, Singapore Turf Club

Singapore Pools and Turf Club allowed to run remote gambling platforms, but must have safeguards in place
By Danson Cheong and Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

Online betting will be introduced in Singapore over the next two months after lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club were given the go-ahead to run online betting platforms.

The two operators will be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act, which outlaws online and phone gambling, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday, confirming a recent Straits Times report that had flagged this.

But the operators have to put in place safeguards, such as allowing only those above 21 to open accounts and requiring players to set daily limits on how much they want to spend on online gambling.

Singapore Pools will launch its online betting services on Oct 25 and the Turf Club will launch its new Web and mobile platform on Nov 15.

Punters can place bets only for 4D, Toto, football, F1 and horse-racing. Casino-style games or poker will not be allowed.

The exemptions will last for three years and the operators can apply for their renewal.

Since the Act came into force in February last year, several hundred websites offering remote gambling services have been blocked. More than 120 people have been arrested for remote gambling offences.

The Act was passed into law in late 2014 following intense debate spanning the political spectrum, and the move to grant the exemptions once again reignited concerns that this will make online betting more accessible and lead to an increase in gambling addictions.

Said Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher De Souza: "If, by providing the exemptions, more Singaporeans are attracted to online gambling and this in turn increases gambling addiction cases, then I would be highly concerned.

"But if the number of online gambling addiction cases goes down as a result of having this regulated regime, it will be a significant advantage. The converse result would be immensely unfortunate - especially for family members."

On Tuesday, the Workers' Party said the exemptions will make "virtual betting outlets available in almost every home and mobile device".

Gambling help groups have said the young - known to be technology-savvy - are most at risk.

The MHA said the global remote gambling market is worth about US$40 billion (S$54.5 billion) and growing at a rate of about 6 per cent to 8 per cent annually.

It added that it is not "straightforward to eradicate remote gambling totally". Its spokesman said: "A complete ban would only serve to drive remote gambling underground, making it harder to detect, and exacerbate the associated law and order, and social concerns."

So while the exemptions will be granted, this "tightly controlled valve" will come with "stringent operating conditions".

Operators have to "keep their management and operations of the remote gambling services free from criminal influence, ensure integrity of their operations and implement social safeguards and responsible gambling measures".

Some of the safeguards include the self-exclusion option and checks to ensure those opening accounts do not have casino exclusion orders.

Operators also have to put in place systems and controls to prevent money laundering and counter the financing of terrorism.

If the conditions are breached, the operators could be fined up to $1 million and have their exemption status revoked.

Mr Chris Eaton of the International Centre for Sport Security said that by legalising online sport betting, Singapore is preventing organised crime from taking root in sports.

"Singapore is making the right choice in legalising online sport betting... sport betting fraud funds match-fixing worldwide," he said.

Exempt operators provide 'outlet' to manage crime associated with gambling: Tan Chuan-Jin

Channel NewsAsia, 6 Oct 2016

Having a "managed space" for online gambling allows the Government to provide a "safer alternative" for those who wish to place bets online, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Oct 6).

Mr Tan was responding to a charge from the National Council of Churches (NCCS) that the Government is sending “confusing and conflicting signals” by legalising some forms of remote gambling provided by authorised operators.

Referring to the Government’s decision to exempt Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club from a ban on online betting, the NCCS said on Wednesday that it had difficulty accepting the Government’s rationale that “a complete ban would only serve to drive remote gambling underground, making it harder to detect”.

The opposition Worker’s Party, and People’s Action Party MP Denise Phua are among those who have spoken out against the move. Meanwhile, an online petition to stop the legalisation of online gambling has gathered more than 13,000 signatures as of Thursday. 

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Recently, the Government gave the green light for selected betting services from Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club to be offered online. However, in 2015, the Thye Hua Kwan Problem Gambling Recovery Centre and the National Addictions Management Service at the Institute of Mental Health actually saw a 60 per cent increase in the number of problem gambling cases, compared to three years before. This seems to contradict the purpose of the exempt operators regime, as the cases are not going down. So how is the Government planning to address the spike?

Tan Chuan-Jin: We work very closely with these partners. They support us in our effort to help individuals with problem gambling. What we’re encouraged by is in the last few years, we’ve put in a lot of effort in terms of raising awareness, so we do see many people come forward when they had previously not realised that they had problems with gambling. They now realise that they do have a problem, and they’re coming forward, in larger numbers. Families are coming forward; social groups are also doing that. That’s really useful because it allows us to actually address the problems that these individuals face and try to deal with it.

In fact, that’s exactly the challenge we’re facing. We’re very concerned with the increase in problem gambling, especially in the online space. It’s relatively new… and the biggest concern that we have is that it’s proliferating. It’s a global market; a lot of money is to be made, and the worst thing is that it’s unregulated and there are no safety measures in place.

Singapore being very connected to the Internet, and (with) people having smart devices of all sorts - there’s a very high risk that we’ll see more people going online to gamble. We see some of that happening, and there are two big concerns. One … a lot of it is unfortunately associated with crime, syndicated crime particularly. So for example, illegal gambling (in) 4D, TOTO, football, horse racing - you do pick up bookies, agents on the ground who collect monies, extend credit lines to individuals. And that’s worrisome, because not only do you have the social ills that come with gambling, there’s also the criminal element.

This is why, we decided two years ago, to table the Bill which is the Remote Gambling Act, which came into place in 2015. (It’s) basically putting in place a very robust set of laws - we’re going to ban sites actively, we’re going to ban channels of payment, we’ll criminalise online gaming. I wish that we could just stop there, and that that in and of itself will solve the problem. But unfortunately, we know the Internet - you can close down sites but new sites will set up, and sometimes even faster than you can close them down; there are also technology bypassers, for example, VPNs, proxy websites. So even with the passing of the laws in 2015, we’ve arrested 120 people who are associated with online gambling - even with the laws in place.

So we know that while we have a robust set of laws, bans and so on, it will not eradicate the problem. Singaporeans are there (online), and while they are there, it is unprotected space, which is why even the laws have an exemption for operators that can operate a very tightly managed safe space, so that those who, for whatever reason, still want to gamble online - there can be a safe environment where they can hopefully, gamble safely, and responsibly. But very tightly controlled, to make sure the measures are in place to protect them. So (we have adopted) a combination of robust laws, bans; a controlled space; as well as supported by an extensive network of support for individuals with problems; and also increasing education and awareness. That’s the way we feel that we can approach the issue of trying to manage the growth of these problems.

Q: You spoke about more people having access to these gambling sites online. There is a greater convenience and ease of access to remote gambling. Do you anticipate that this could cause a very different, unprecedented kind of gambling problem, and how will the Government manage this problem?

Tan Chuan-Jin: Exactly. This is why we are very deeply concerned. Online gambling, we think, will increase as the space grows, and it is… largely unregulated and unfiltered. Which is why we’ve put in place the laws, even with the exempt operator regime - very tight controls are put in place. For example, we don’t allow the operators to offer new products. The existing lottery - 4D, TOTO - betting on football, horse racing, F1 - it remains there. We’re not offering new types of products, because we’re not interested in making them more attractive. But at least, they provide an alternative. There’s also safety measures put in place, for example you can’t bet with your credit card, no credit line is being extended, you need to put in place for yourself before you’re allowed to actually participate, (there’s) screening as well before you sign on...

There’s two-factor authentication required. We also make sure that the existing exclusion regime continues, meaning that families can take steps to make sure that family members aren’t able to participate. Individuals can also do that. So this range of measures allows us to create a safer environment to manage that.

If we don’t have this environment, what it means that those who seek to bypass the sort of bans that are in place will then operate in a place that’s completely unfettered, and I think (that’s) quite dangerous, because they are exposed to criminal elements as well - over and above the social ills that come with gambling.

Q: Do you think that this access to online betting services will exacerbate the problem?

Tan Chuan-Jin: The problem exists today, with or without this managed space. Even with our bans and blocks, people find ways to go around it. We will continue to endeavour to increase the friction, but we know that that overall space is just growing, and given profile of Internet penetration in Singapore, there’s a very real risk that people who really do desire to be online to game, will find alternatives despite everything that we’ve done. So having a managed space, allows us at least to provide a safer alternative. I know that ideally we would prefer not to have this space at all. But I can’t wish that problem away, because this set of laws on its own - the bans and the blocks - will not be enough to prevent people from being there.

But if I had an alternative that may be controlled and tightly managed, I think we would perhaps allow a space who are seeking that online gaming experience to be in that space. At least we can manage that, and we can intervene in perhaps, a much more constructive way, where there are problems that begin to arise.

Q: How would you respond then, to the National Council of Churches’ assertion that - with the move to exempt Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club from the Remote Gambling Act - the Government is sending confusing and conflicting signals?

Tan Chuan-Jin: We had a chance to speak to them. There was a consultation in 2014 before the Bill was tabled in Parliament. Recently, I spoke to a number of different groups, including VWO (voluntary welfare organisation) groups, representatives from religious organisations - I fully understand their concerns, because they do need to explain to their followers about the position taken.

In fact, I share their concerns about problem gambling and the ills that come with it. I totally agree that we should not be supporting and encouraging gambling, so that part is very clear. So the question is how do you solve the problem that’s at hand? It’s a very real problem that we see today, which is - online gambling is there, and it is growing. And even with a fairly robust set of laws and bans and blocks, you will not completely eradicate the problem. How do we then deal with the remnants - those people who are still online, who unfortunately will be very exposed? We share the same concern - we want to look out for those individuals. Having a tightly controlled outlet, space, if you will, I think will allow us, in combination with the other measures put in place, to hopefully adequately, manage the problem.

It’s not going to eradicate the problem. It’s not as if with this exempted operator regime, plus the robust set of laws - it’s going to eradicate online gambling, and all the associated problems. Unfortunately, there will be people who will still seek alternative sites, but at least, I think this is one way we are taking to try to moderate the issue, to prevent it from growing more than it should, and hopefully over time to strengthen it more than we can.

Q: NCCS has raised concerns about how this move could increase risk of problem gambling. While there are safeguards, are these robust enough?

Tan Chuan-Jin: The reality that we face today is that there is a growing problem with online gambling. So we all agree, we need to deal with it. There are associated ills, one of course is social ills, but one of the areas we’re most concerned with is crime, because a lot of criminal elements are associated with illegal gambling online. How do we deal with it? So we have a robust set of laws which most people support. It puts in place blocks, it puts in place bans, it criminalises it, but we also know that because of the Internet space - unlike the terrestrial space where (it’s) not easy, but you can manage and prevent gambling dens from being built and so on - it’s incredibly difficult online, and that space continues to grow. So with these measures alone, it will not eradicate the problem. When we have a controlled outlet, valve, that’s provided for by the law, I think it allows the space, where those who are in that space, instead of being on an illegal site, can perhaps be in a safer space where crime is removed from the picture. And at least, safety measures are put in place to try to manage it actively.

But will it completely solve the problem? It will not. Because there will be those who will seek to bypass existing blocks and bans. So for that, we have to encourage people to avoid these sites by education, by support measures that are being put in place .... We share common desired outcomes with many of these groups. The issue is how best to address the problem. I wish we could solve the problem just by having a robust set of laws … but we don’t think that it will, because people will still be there, and they’re not protected. This the approach that we’re taking to make sure the problem doesn’t proliferate and get worse.

Q: After the green light was given to Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club, what kind of feedback were you immediately getting from stakeholders, even though they were consulted beforehand?

Tan Chuan-Jin: We’ve had various reactions. Some had forgotten that we debated this in Parliament two years ago. A number of them surfaced feedback. Some were concerned about why after we approved (the Bill), the companies suddenly came forward to put forth their suggestions. We’ve been working with the groups for some time, because we wanted to make sure that it is not just theoretical, that these companies can actually make sure that the restrictions put in place could work in reality, before MHA approves it … I fully understand how individuals react, especially when we’re not handling the issue in detail. Most people understand the ills that come with problem gambling, but the criminal element is not always so obvious and that’s something we are particularly worried about. And we need to manage the space quite tightly, which is why we decided to come forward with a fairly aggressive series of steps … but I think it’s important to put across also, the reasons for doing it, and how we’re trying to deal with it ... Bans and blocks don’t completely work. We will endeavour to strengthen it as we can, add as much friction as possible, but people are still there, finding bypasses. If people are there and not protected, what then do we do to deal with it? Which is why we think that having a very tightly controlled, managed outlet, valve is one way of complementing the whole series of efforts we’ve put in.

Q: Are you boosting resources of MSF’s side to deal with the potential increase in problem gambling cases?

Tan Chuan-Jin: We continue to focus on the issue of problem gambling, which is why we’ve stepped up efforts in terms of raising awareness, education, so that people can recognise the symptoms earlier, come forward if they need to, and best of all, prevent themselves from getting into that position in the first place. Having a tightly managed space is one way of dealing with it; so that people don’t develop the habits that will lead to problem gambling, and perhaps limit (themselves) so they don’t end up being deeply in debt, and (having) things unravel because of that.

We do want to step up, as we have done in the last few years. It’s something that we will take feedback from stakeholders on, because we work very closely with them. They provide the input, but they also are at the front end working with us, dealing and helping the individuals. So it’s not a trivial issue, but like I said, the online gaming space is growing in quite significant proportion, we don't really want to start reacting when the problem becomes acute; we want to deal with it as early as possible, and preempt it.

We’ve stepped up for example, a lot of advertisements, stories like the recent one by (getai singer) Wang Lei.

As the situation evolves, we will look at resourcing it more, even more than we do today, if the need arises.

Q: There is criticism that legalising these online gambling services will exacerbate the problem. We’ve already seen that - it’s going up.

Tan Chuan-Jin: (On the point on problem gambling going up) A lot of this is due to awareness, more people are coming forward … does it mean it’s increasing? More people are coming forward.

I think it’s (a criticism) that some people have raised and are concerned about. I think it’s a fair concern. We actually looked at other regimes out there, for example in Hong Kong and Norway. They have something similar to us. In fact, ours is a lot stricter, both in terms of the laws and the regulatory framework for operators … they’ve also been doing studies to try and examine their own space. Whether, as a result of having this exempt operator regime, does the problem gambling situation increase? What we have found is that it hasn’t exacerbated their situation at all. It hasn’t really increased, so that’s quite encouraging. And especially with the fact that our is actually a much more strict arrangement than they have. But as I said, this is an area that we are concerned about ... because problem gambling online, we think, will grow because of the nature of online gambling in and of itself. Which is why we do need to step in with fairly robust actions, and having a controlled outlet valve, we think, is part of that overall regime, to allow us to manage it as effectively as possible.

Green light for online betting: Social workers warn of dangers
Tech-savvy young people at risk despite upcoming awareness education drive
By Melissa Lin and Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

Allowing punters to legally bet online may lead to more problem gambling - especially among tech-savvy youth, caution social workers and psychiatrists.

To counter this possible trend, the government-appointed National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) will be going to schools, cinemas and digital media to reach out to young people.

For instance, it will hold cyberwellness roadshows and talks in schools. It will also be screening a video aimed at youth on how to spot signs of problem gambling in their friends and help them.

Previously launched during June's European Championship, the clip will now also be shown in cinemas, on cable television and disseminated through digital media in the coming months.

The efforts are a pre-emptive strike to target youth who have been identified as a segment that may be particularly vulnerable to online gambling.

This comes after the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday that it will exempt Singapore-based lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club from laws that curb online betting.

Singapore Pools and Turf Club will start their online betting services on Oct 25 and Nov 15 respectively.

Given Singapore's high usage of smart devices - smartphone penetration was 85 per cent in 2014, the highest globally - and the convenience of online betting, observers warn that more people are likely to try their hand at online gambling.

This would in turn increase the risk of gambling-related problems such as addiction, said Mr Chong Ee Jay, a manager with non-profit Touch Community Services.

In particular, young people may be drawn into social gambling, as being able to place bets online "circumvents the traditional barrier and stigma of betting over the counter", he added.

Mr Billy Lee, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services (BGSS), said "new gamblers" could be drawn in by the sheer accessibility of these new betting products.

He added that young gamblers - aged 20 to 35 - who do not have responsibilities and are educated with good careers are particularly at risk since they might think they "have the resources to gamble".

But trouble happens when they get hooked, said Mr Lee, adding that BGSS recently started a support group for this group.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development said: "We need to educate our youth to recognise the dangers of online gambling addiction from young."

Dr Thomas Lee, consultant psychiatrist at The Resilienz Clinic, noted that the social safeguards the two operators must impose may ensure that individuals gamble within their means.

But, he added: "No safeguard is entirely foolproof... ultimately, gamblers should take personal responsibility in controlling their gambling behaviour."

Education, families and the community still play a key role in preventing problem gambling, social workers said.

Families should be made aware of the potential dangers of easy access to gambling so they can seek help if they know of family members struggling with addiction, said Mr Chong.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said she expects more social problems to crop up.

"Let's not kid ourselves with responsible-gambling messages. If such messaging can stop someone from doing what they want, then we would have eradicated cigarette smoking, isn't it?"

Meanwhile, a petition to stop the legalisation of online gambling here has garnered more than 12,000 signatures as of yesterday.

Mr Abraham Yeo, 36, a media technologist who started the petition, said he had once tried to help someone apply for a family exclusion order. However, it involved filling up forms, and undergoing interviews both by phone and in person - an "extremely draining" process.

He said: "The petition may not change the Government's mind, but we want to at least take a stand against this."

Legal online betting may be available soon
Singapore Pools, Turf Club await go-ahead to launch online services as early as next month
By Jermyn Chow, Taiwan Correspondent and Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 15 Sep 2016

Punters may be allowed to place their bets online legally as early as the second half of next month - in a move that appears aimed at trying to counter illicit gambling on unauthorised websites.

The Straits Times has learnt that Singapore-based lottery operators Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club (STC) are preparing to launch their online betting services, in anticipation of getting the green light from the authorities.

Responding to queries from ST, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) would say only that it is evaluating applications from Singapore Pools and STC.

But ST understands that both lottery operators are running final tests on their online betting platforms and have prepared advisories for staff and customers.

They are hoping to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act by the end of this month.

Details are still being finalised, but it appears that all lotteries and games except for Big Sweep will be available online. However, betting amounts and permutations will be limited. It is also understood that the operators will be able to take live bets online.

Singapore Pools offers betting on football and motor-racing as well as 4-D and Toto, while STC takes bets on horse races.

The latest move to allow the two operators to venture into online betting comes two years after Parliament passed the Remote Gambling Act, which outlawed online and phone gambling. Hundreds of websites that offer remote gambling services have since been blocked.

But the possibility of allowing some operators into this space had been kept open: Then Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran said that an outright ban could drive illegal remote gambling activity underground.

An operator could be exempted from the Act provided that it was a not-for-profit operation and contributed to public, social and charitable causes in Singapore.

Both STC and Singapore Pools meet these criteria. They are not-for-profit organisations operated by the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board), a statutory board under the Ministry of Finance.

Their gaming surpluses are channelled to the Tote Board to fund charitable and social causes.

If their applications are indeed approved, they will be the first to receive an exemption.

But MPs then said the exemption clause sends mixed signals.

Allowing punters to place their bets online would make betting more convenient - and lead to a whole host of other problems, social workers warned.

"The danger is not just addiction. Especially among the younger generation who lack self discipline, there's also the danger of debt issues," said Ms Deborah Queck, 48, who counsels gambling addicts at Eternal Grace Community Services.

Online betting: Fear of rise in addiction
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 15 Sep 2016

Social workers and consumers alike have expressed concern over a possible move to let lottery operators Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club run online betting services.

While some consumers welcome the convenience of such services, they noted that this may spark a rise in gambling addiction problems, especially among the young.

Mr Alan Lee, a photographer, believes that such online betting services could encourage recreational punters to place bets more frequently. "Gambling can be addictive, and if it becomes too easily accessible from the comfort of one's home, then it will be tempting to bet more often," said Mr Lee, 57, who buys 4-D tickets occasionally.

He added that public education efforts, especially in schools and community centres, should be strengthened.

Calling the move "a bad idea", driver Mohd Halim, 40, said the young, who are more Internet savvy, would become more prone to gambling for fun.

Ms Deborah Queck, 48, who counsels gambling addicts at non-profit organisation Eternal Grace Community Services, said: "The danger is not just addiction, especially among the younger generation who lack self-discipline.

"There's also the danger of debt issues and them turning to stealing to repay their debts."

Mr S. Iswaran, who was then Second Minister for Home Affairs, noted two years ago that an exemption to a blanket ban on online gambling in no way relaxed Singapore's stance against the vice. Pointing out how the activity could be driven underground, he noted that the exemption was instead "part of an ecosystem that seeks to minimise the law and order concerns, and social consequences that we are concerned about".

Financial adviser Nicholas Lee, 28, who has bet on football games and Toto, said he would use the online service if it is not too inconvenient to set up an account. "When I tried to set up a membership account with Singapore Pools, it required a proof of income statement. That was too much of a hassle," he said, referring to a service that allows people to place bets with Singapore Pools over the phone after setting up a membership account.

Bank manager Sendha Arumugam, however, is not keen on using the service.

The 43-year-old, who bets on Toto once in a while, was concerned about fake websites. She said: "It could be difficult to tell the official websites apart from the fake ones. There is a danger of people going online to bet and ending up being scammed."

Additional reporting by Melissa Lin

Parliament: Online gambling

Punters find ways to bet online despite ban
Take 'realistic, clear-minded approach' by allowing legal online betting that is tightly controlled: Desmond Lee
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2016

Despite a ban on remote gambling, determined gamblers still found ways to place bets online.

Hence, allowing some form of legal online betting, but in a tightly controlled manner, is "a realistic and clear-minded approach", said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee in Parliament yesterday. He revealed that last year, close to 300 people were arrested for illegal gambling, with about 50 charged under the Remote Gambling Act. The police carry out more than 100 raids against illegal gambling every year.

Online betting accounts for about 90 per cent of those arrested for illegal football gambling and more than one-third of those arrested for illegal lotteries.

These statistics suggest that online gambling still persists despite the blocking of hundreds of websites, bank accounts and financial transactions linked to remote gambling services, following the passing of the Act in 2014, said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee was responding to a question by Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) about the online gambling situation in Singapore in the past two years. She was among five MPs who had raised concerns about the Government's decision last month to allow lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club to launch online gambling services, following applications to be exempted from the Act.

Singapore Pools will launch its online betting services on Oct 25 and the Turf Club will launch its Web and mobile platforms on Nov 15.

Mr Lee said a complete ban will drive demand underground "and create larger incentives for criminal syndicates to target Singaporeans".

Ms Phua also asked if the Government will consider a total ban on remote gambling, "in the view that... Singapore has banned many less significant things, such as chewing gum and pornographic materials".

Mr Lee said that a complete ban does not mean that illegal online gambling will stop. He cited a 2013 Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) survey of more than 1,000 Internet users. Three in 10 acknowledged that they had engaged in remote gambling at least once in the past year, and two-thirds of them were between the ages of 25 and 44. And with the global Internet gambling industry estimated to be worth US$40 billion (S$55 billion) last year, with an annual growth rate of 6 per cent to 8 per cent over the past five years, the problem of online gambling is set to get worse.

"At this rate, the remote gambling market will double in size roughly every 10 years," he said. "Here in Singapore, we are not immune from these global trends, given our high Internet and smartphone penetration rates."

He also highlighted how permitting a limited number of state-approved companies to offer online gambling has allowed foreign jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Norway to collect betting data - which would have otherwise gone undetected - and fine-tune their remote gambling policy. MHA will work with both Singapore Pools and Turf Club to conduct surveys and studies, he added.

Responding to a question by Mr Edwin Tong (Marine Parade GRC) about the measures to contain and control the potential of remote gambling to cause harm, Mr Lee said: "Our approach towards gambling is similar to many countries' approach in managing other vices, such as drinking and smoking.

"Although we discourage drinking and smoking, we do not have a complete ban. Instead, we manage the potential harm through regulations and public education."

He added that some have compared gambling to drug abuse and suggested a safety valve, too, for drug taking or drug offences.

"The magnitude of harm resulting from drug abuse is vastly different from and much more severe than that for gambling," Mr Lee said. "Our regimes towards drug abuse and vices, such as gambling, are necessarily different."

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) asked Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin how allowing the two operators to launch online gambling services solves the problem of online gambling. She said: "Aren't you encouraging more people to go online to gamble by making it legitimate?"

In response, Mr Tan said that a complete ban will not seal off access to gambling sites. The reality is that there will always be those who gamble online, in a space where there are no social safeguards.

He added: "Are we seeking to encourage (online gambling)? No, that is not our position. Our position is not to encourage, our position is recognising a reality, which is that there are Singaporeans out there in that space."







Much at stake for HK govt in battle against illegal online gambling
By Joyce Lim, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2016

In its bid to combat illegal online gambling, the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) introduced a range of digital products, offering punters live broadcasts of selected football matches and real-time data on horse races on tablets and smartphones.

Punters can also make instant fund transfers between their betting accounts and nominated bank accounts.

Despite having a monopoly on online betting in Hong Kong, HKJC estimated illegal betting on horse racing at US$12.8 billion (S$17.6 billion), nearly matching its turnover of US$13.8 billion last year.

According to an earlier Bloomberg report, HKJC reckoned that in the financial year ended March 2010, the government lost out on at least HK$2.6 billion (S$460 million) in racing taxes because of illegal bookmakers.

With HKJC being the city's largest single taxpayer and biggest source of charitable donations, there is a lot at stake for the government if it does not regulate the sector.

In 2014, Singapore's then Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran, together with representatives from the National Council on Problem Gambling, visited Hong Kong to look at how it manages online gambling.

The changes to tackle illegal online gambling have made a big difference. In August, HKJC reported a turnover of HK$202.7 billion for its financial year ended June 30, up by almost 6 per cent, while the government collected a record HK$20.9 billion in duty and profits tax.

Despite the economic downturn, football betting saw the biggest gain of 10.9 per cent at HK$86.8 billion.

Technological advancements have led to more illegal gambling platforms being made more readily available in recent years. A study tracking Web traffic found that at least 230,000 local residents patronise illegal gambling websites each month, HKJC said on its website.

The betting losses incurred each year are about HK$12 billion, or about 60 per cent of the government's Community Care Fund, said HKJC.

Growing problem in UK; new rules aim to curb addiction
By Tan Dawn Wei, In London, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2016

Online betting in Britain has about 20 million active punters, who wager on sports from football and tennis to golf and horse and greyhound-racing, as well as card games like poker. They lost £3.6 billion (S$6.1 billion) last year.

It is illegal for anyone under 18 years old to gamble, and bets must be placed with a licensed operator.

The growing popularity of online betting has seen the country's gaming regulator give out a total of 749 licences as of March this year.

The Gambling Commission was set up after gambling laws were liberalised in 2005. It has the power to prosecute anyone who runs foul of the Gambling Act, which ensures there is no link between gambling and crime or disorder, that gambling is conducted fairly and openly, and children and vulnerable adults are protected from harm or exploitation.

However, healthcare professionals and charities are worried about the rising number of gambling addicts. There are about 500,000 in Britain.

GamCare, a charity that provides counselling and a helpline to gamblers, said the number of people it was treating rose to 5,500 last year, nearly 40 per cent above the previous year's figure. Nearly half of those who seek help say they are online punters.

To combat the problem, the Gambling Commission introduced new rules that allowed online customers to take between 24 hours and six months off from betting while keeping their online accounts open. They can also deactivate their accounts by simply ticking a box, rather than calling the betting operator, which was the case previously.

In April, a 23-year-old accountant jumped to his death from the ninth floor of an office building in London, after debts piled up from his addiction to online gambling.

Mr Josh Jones told his parents before his death that he could not resist the lure of PokerStars, the world's largest online poker site. He owed £30,000 to banks, loan companies, family and friends.

To control his addiction, he had imposed a six-month self-exclusion from the site. But when PokerStars sent him an automated e-mail to rejoin the site after the six months were up, he started gambling again.

* Heated exchange on bid to allow limited online gambling

Desmond Lee rebuts WP accusation that Govt was exempting local operators to make money
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2016

Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh yesterday accused the Government of allowing lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club to offer legal online gambling in order to "make more money".

In an adjournment motion in Parliament, Mr Singh (Aljunied GRC) said there has been a "glaring lack of clarity" as to how the Government is preparing to address "the scourge of online gambling".

This drew a sharp response from Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee, who said it was the "most disturbing thing I've heard this evening".

He called upon Mr Singh's Workers' Party to make clear its position on online gambling and give specific suggestions on what should be done instead.

In a 20-minute-long speech, Mr Singh raised numerous questions about the Government's decision in September to exempt the two operators from the Remote Gambling Act. He said the most common reaction he has heard from Singaporeans is that the Government "just wants to make more money".

Mr Singh added: "Is providing for exempt operators a way to redirect gambling spending away from illegal overseas operators to local operators which are owned by the Tote Board?"

He said the argument that the Tote Board gives money to charities is "morally questionable" and "akin to saying that it is okay to harm some people in order to help others".

He refused to accept the argument that the exempt operators allow the Government to manage crime associated with gambling and added that legalising online gambling will more likely attract first-time gamblers.

But Mr Lee pointed out that illicit online gambling was growing worldwide and Singapore would not be spared. Gamblers still found ways to bet online despite hundreds of websites being blocked. A total ban would drive the problem further underground.

"So we need a valve - legal, run by non-profit organisations, where people have to sign up, so we know who they are, with mechanisms to promote responsible gaming, for us to try to intervene early before the problem gets out of hand," he said.

Mr Singh had "made rather serious allegations about the motivation of the Government", he added.

Mr Lee also noted that during the second reading of the Remote Gambling Act in 2014, Mr Singh had pushed for a total ban on online gambling.

In the same debate, Workers' Party's Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) contradicted Mr Singh and said the ban will drive the problem underground.

Said Mr Lee: "What is the Workers' Party's true position on this matter? Even after this evening, even after the allegations have been made about the Government's intentions, I don't think we are any wiser."

He asked the Workers' Party to put on the table specific suggestions on how a total ban on online gambling would work. "For example, do you support a complete ban on VPN and technology that skirts around blocking measures?"

Mr Lee did not get a response as time ran out.

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