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.