Restrictions on online gambling 'will deter many': Experts

But proposed law not foolproof, will not stop hardcore gamblers: Experts

Experts say online gambling has become more pervasive, given the ease of access to such sites.
Experts say online gambling has become more pervasive, given the ease of access to such sites. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Help groups for gambling addicts and other industry experts welcomed a newly proposed law that specifically targets online gambling, saying that it will act as a deterrent for many gamblers.

But the Remote Gambling Bill, which was tabled in Parliament on Monday, is not foolproof and will not be able to stop compulsive gamblers intent on getting their fix online, they added.

The Bill, which could become law when it is next read in Parliament, proposes to restrict online gambling through three main measures: Blocking access to online gambling websites, blocking money transfers to and from such sites, and banning advertisements which promote online gambling.

The move to target online gambling is an important one, as online gambling has become increasingly pervasive, given the ease of access to such sites, said experts.

Mr Gerald Goh, clinical director of counselling centre ECMS Consultants, said: "Right now, remote gambling is relatively unregulated, so it's good that the Bill is proposed... It's not foolproof, but it's definitely going to make things difficult for people."

Mr Goh said that most of the gambling addicts he sees gamble online and are between 16 and 35 years old, as the younger generation is more tech-savvy.

Addictions specialist Munidasa Winslow said: "Those who gamble without any thought of the consequences will now think twice, because of the penalties involved."

Criminal lawyer Amolat Singh added that the Bill's exemption - which allows for Singapore-based operators to offer online gambling, but tightly regulated and not for profit - is necessary.

"It's drawing a parallel to vice - better a known evil and therefore containment becomes easier, than totally trying to stifle it," he said.

It may be difficult to clamp down on online gambling though, given its highly addictive nature and the challenges of policing cyberspace.

Latest statistics from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) show that online gamblers have the poorest self-control.

About a third of gamblers said that they gambled for a longer time period, more frequently or spent more money than planned.

Mr Dick Lum, executive director of One Hope Centre which counsels gambling addicts, said: "For compulsive gamblers, they won't stop just because of rules and regulations."

Some gamblers turn to online gambling as an alternative when they cannot enter casinos because of exclusion orders, he said.

Mr Goh also pointed out possible loopholes in the restrictions.

"Even if payment is blocked, some gamblers can go to Malaysia, set up a bank account, get a credit card and pay with that," he said.

At least two banks here - DBS Bank and OCBC Bank - said that they already block payments to online gambling sites.

Meanwhile, public education efforts are important as well, said help groups.

Ms Rachel Lee, senior assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centre, said: "Parents must also be responsible to monitor their children's behaviour."

An NCPG spokesman said the council will continue highlighting the risk of remote gambling, in particular, social games that simulate gambling, and developing programmes targeted at tech-savvy youth.

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