Allowing two local lottery operators to offer online betting provides a regulated and safer platform for gamblers, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.
His remarks came a day after the National Council of Churches Singapore (NCCS) voiced its concern over last week's decision to allow Singapore Pools and Turf Club to offer bets online. It said the move sent "confusing and conflicting signals" given that the Remote Gambling Act, which kicked in last year in February, banned all other forms of online betting.
Asked to respond to this comment, Mr Tan stressed that the Government shares the concerns of anti-gambling and religious groups over problem gambling. But he said that despite the new laws against illegal online betting, "you will not completely eradicate the problem", adding that "it is there and it is growing".
"You can close down sites, but new sites will be set up, sometimes faster than you can close them down," he told Channel NewsAsia.
"It is a global market with a lot of money to be made, and the worst thing is that it is unregulated and there are no safety measures in place."
People will continue to be drawn to these sites, and "we want to look out for those individuals".
Which is why it was decided to have "a tightly controlled outlet" through which the Government can moderate any problems, and prevent it from growing more than it should, Mr Tan said.
Those who want to gamble online on the legal platforms must be at least 21 years old, and will have to set daily gambling limits. They will also not be able to place bets on credit.
An existing exclusion regime, which allows families to bar their loved ones from casinos, would also be in place for online betting.
Mr Tan said he was encouraged by the examples of Hong Kong and Norway which also allow a small number of legal online betting operators. "What they've found is that it hasn't exacerbated the situation at all," he explained, pointing out that Singapore rules are even stricter.
Mr Tan, who said his ministry had consulted NCCS in 2014 and that he too had recently been in touch with voluntary welfare organisations and religious groups, repeatedly highlighted during the interview how having a regulated online betting regime was the best compromise.
"If we don't have this environment, what it means is that those who seek to bypass existing bans that are in place will then operate in a place that is completely unfettered," he said. "And I think that is quite dangerous, because they are exposed to criminal elements as well, over and above the social ills that come with gambling. So it is really a combination of these measures that we think would be one way to deal with the potential growing problem."