Pergas worried that allowing online gambling to curb unlicensed operators may create more ills

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) has joined several religious organisations in voicing concerns over online gambling in the Republic.

In a statement on Saturday (Oct 15), Pergas said that "allowing online gambling in order to curb unlicensed operators may lead to more negative effects", such as the erosion of moral values in the community.

It also noted that gambling is strictly prohibited in Islam.

The Pergas statement comes after the Ministry of Home Affairs in September allowed two Singapore-based lottery operators - Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club - to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act passed by Parliament two years ago. The Act outlaws all online and phone betting activities.

The authorities said operators will have to put in place safeguards, such as allowing only those above 21 to open accounts.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said in Parliament on Oct 10 that a complete ban will not seal off access to gambling sites.

He added: "Are we seeking to encourage (online gambling)? No, that is not our position. Our position is not to encourage, our position is recognising a reality, which is that there are Singaporeans out there in that space." He was referring to spaces for online gambling where there are no social safeguards.

Still, Pergas said that allowing online gambling by the two local operators "will make it easier for individuals to gamble wherever they are, including using their mobile phones to place bets".

Citing a 2014 National Council On Problem Gambling survey on gambling activities among Singapore residents, Pergas noted that among gamblers with poor self-control, online gamblers formed the largest group compared to gamblers who were involved in other forms of gambling.

Pergas added that gambling causes problems socially, psychologically and financially which will then affect the gambling addict at work and in school, leading to health and family problems.

Various religious organisations have also raised concerns over allowing Singapore Pools and the Turf Club from being exempted from the the ban on online gambling.

In a message from the Office of the Mufti, delivered by imams at mosques across Singapore during Friday sermons, it said that online gambling has the potential to affect not only the person involved, but also his entire family and community.

The Catholic Church has also urged the Government to closely monitor the move to allow the two lottery operators here to offer online betting services.

The church urged the authorities to take "all necessary measures to help those who may fall victim to online gambling".

The National Council of Churches Singapore, which represents over 250 churches, has called for a review of the online gambling exemption for the two lottery operators, expressing grave concerns about the decision.