Legal online betting may be available soon

Posed photograph of a man looking at the Singapore Pools website on a tablet.
Posed photograph of a man looking at the Singapore Pools website on a tablet. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore Pools, Turf Club await go-ahead to launch online services as early as next month

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'Legal online betting may be available soon'. Print Edition | Subscribe