SINGAPORE – The easing of Covid-19 curbs saw punters come out in force, resulting in a dramatic surge in the amounts placed as bets on 4-D, Toto and sports such as football.
A total of $9.2 billion was spent on bets on lotteries and sports in the Tote Board’s last financial year, which ended in March 2022 – a spike of about 40 per cent from the year before. This is the largest sum placed on such bets in the past decade.
In the previous financial year ended March 2021, $6.6 billion was wagered on lotteries and sports.
A spokesman for the Tote Board said the sums bet on lotteries and sports in the financial year ended March 2022 increased after Singapore started lifting Covid-19 restrictions.
All Singapore Pools outlets, the Singapore Turf Club and the two casinos were shut from April 7 to June 1 in 2020, when the circuit breaker was imposed. They resumed operations on different dates. Singapore Pools retail outlets, for example, opened from June 22, 2020.
The Tote Board, a statutory body, governs lottery operator Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club, which operates horse races. Lotteries comprise 4-D, Toto and Singapore Sweep, while sports betting refers to football and motor racing bets.
No breakdown of the total bets on each game was provided in the Tote Board’s annual report, which was released in October.
Counsellors who work with gambling addicts offered various reasons for the surge in bets in the last financial year.
Ms Tham Yuen Han, executive director of We Care Community Services, said that with the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions around the world, there were more football matches for punters to place bets on, hence the spike in bets in the last financial year.
Ms Joey Tan, centre manager of Arise2care Community Services, said her centre has seen some seniors learn how to place bets on the Singapore Pools online betting site during the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequently place bets more frequently. The seniors find it more convenient to place their bets online, rather than go to a Singapore Pools outlet to do so.
Counsellors interviewed all said the ease and accessibility offered by the Singapore Pools online betting site have led to their clients betting more frequently. This could have also led to the surge in sums wagered on lotteries and football in the last financial year.
Mr Billy Lee, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services, thinks the surge in bets in the last financial year was due to pent-up demand, adding: “It’s a psychological thing. When things are opening up, people want to have fun.”
He pointed out that lotteries like 4-D and Toto have always been very popular among Singaporeans hoping to win big with just a small bet, and these lotteries are an “accepted form of recreation” here.
The latest survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling found that 44 per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 18 and older polled said they bet on at least one form of gambling activity in 2019. The 2020 survey found 4-D was the most popular game, followed by Toto.
With the World Cup in full swing in Qatar now, counsellors are expecting to see a surge in gamblers asking them for help to deal with their debts and gambling problems after the tournament ends on Dec 18.
Meanwhile, $818 million was placed on horse racing bets in the last financial year – 65 per cent more than the $496 million in the year before, when the Singapore Turf Club was closed during the circuit breaker.
While the sum wagered on horse racing was higher in the last financial year, it has been on a steady decline in the past decade. This is because horse racing is seen as an “old man’s game” and younger punters are not keen on it, Ms Tham said.
In the Tote Board’s last financial year, $125 million in casino entry levies was collected, 10 per cent more than the $114 million collected in the year before, when the two casinos were closed during the circuit breaker.
The daily casino entry levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents is $150 a person.
A Gojek driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Cho, said he places bets of up to $400 a week on football games at Singapore Pools. The 48-year-old said he usually places bets on Premier League matches, but he is also betting on World Cup games.
He said of his betting: “It’s not enough to get by on what I earn from driving; I need to invest. But cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are so risky.”
A taxi driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ng, 55, said he places bets of up to $100, twice a week, on 4-D “just for fun”.
He said: “It’s what our generation does, and what our parents did. I will bet only what I earn, just a bit for fun.”