Concerns that legalised online gambling may lead to more problem gambling and social ills

Experts have voiced concerns that legally allowing punters to place bets online may lead to more problem gambling and social ills in Singapore. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Social workers, counsellors and psychiatrists cautioned that allowing punters to legally place bets online may lead to more problem gambling and social ills here.

This comes after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Thursday (Sept 29) that it has found Singapore-based lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club suitable to be exempted from laws that curb online betting.

Singapore Pools - which offers betting on football and motor-racing, as well as lottery games like 4D and Toto - will launch its online betting service on Oct 25.

Singapore Turf Club, which takes bets for horse races, will launch its new Web and mobile platform on Nov 15.

The MHA said that a complete ban on online betting "would only serve to drive remote gambling underground, making it harder to detect, and exacerbate the associated law and order and social concerns".

The convenience of online betting, coupled with the ubiquitous ownership of smart devices, means more people are likely to try their hand at online gambling, increasing the risk of gambling-related problems such as addiction, said Mr Chong Ee Jay, a manager with charity organisation 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.

The two operators will have to implement social safeguards such as setting a daily limit on how much funds they can transfer into their accounts, and how much they spend on gambling.

Dr Thomas Lee, consultant psychiatrist at The Resilienz Clinic, noted that the measures ensure that individuals gamble within their means.

"However, no safeguard is entirely foolproof because some gamblers will find ways and means to circumvent the safeguards. A vulnerable individual can still walk into any lottery outlet to place a bet," he added.

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, consequences and easy access of gambling so they can seek help if they know of family members struggling with addiction, said Mr Chong.

The National Council on Problem Gambling said it will be beefing up its public education efforts, particularly among young people. It will partner voluntary welfare organisations, the media and tertiary institutions in the next few months to reach out to young people, and will also hold cyber wellness roadshows and talks in schools.

In June, during the Euro Cup season, the council launched a video aimed at educating young people on how to spot the signs of problem gambling and help their friends in need. The video, which has reached more than a million viewers, will be further screened at cinemas, cable television and disseminated through digital media in the next few months.

Meanwhile, a petition to stop the legalisation of online gambling here has garnered more than 12,000 signatures as of Thursday (Sept 29).

Said Mr Abraham Yeo, 36, a media technologist who started the petition: "I've tried helping someone apply for a family exclusion order, but the process was extremely draining. The petition may not change the Government's mind, but we want to at least take a stand against this."

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