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The Straits Times says

Resolving online betting dilemma

The cautious approach of the State towards legalised gambling had earlier prevented Singapore Pools and Turf Club from offering online gambling options to local punters. But they have now got the green light. The pervasiveness of Internet usage and the practical difficulty of monitoring netizens' activities made the Remote Gambling Act, which forbids online and phone gambling, something of an anachronism. But conservative societies are loath to give free play to gambling, given the social ills that can arise - like addiction, impoverishment of families and organised crime. Even when restrictions are not wholly effective, these are sometimes kept in place for symbolic reasons.

Apart from allowing illegal bookies to grow without competition via the Net, barring legal players can lead to other unwanted results. The United States, for example, lost a dispute with the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, after the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that the US policy of outlawing online gambling violated the Caribbean nation's right to make a handsome living from legal cross-border gambling services. The tiny nation has hosted online casinos since 1994 but business dipped after US restrictions. Curiously, the WTO allowed Antigua to suspend US copyrights, after over a decade of wrangling, so the islands could compensate themselves (for the loss of American punters) by selling pirated US content to the world at discounted prices.

Online betting issues are no less tangled within a country's borders. Some American states permit it, while the federal authorities crack down on it. Another contradiction was when backers of an American anti-online gambling Bill, sponsored by some brick-and-mortar casino owners, described the virtual activity as "so offensive and wrong", while remaining silent about real-world gambling.

Given the mix of social and economic arguments pitched, it is necessary to pick one's way carefully through the dilemmas created by gambling. Curbing all forms of it on moral grounds can create other hazards - like the underground mischief and violence of loan sharks. In the absence of acceptable alternatives to satisfy the gambling impulse among a large section of the population, illegal bookies would rake it in. They might use their ill-gotten gains for other illicit activities or launder money in market-distorting ways.

Such realism brought certain forms of gambling here under a regulatory framework, to ensure that taxes are paid and proceeds are channelled to a host of valuable social, sport and charitable causes. Alongside these, a range of measures has been emplaced to help deal with problem gambling. These are practical ways of dealing with the social phenomenon of online gaming. Granting Pools and Turf Club access to the medium is a tactical way of counteracting the efforts of illegal bookies to keep punters in their own pockets.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Resolving online betting dilemma'. Print Edition | Subscribe