The rise in online gambling has seen many nations forced to adjust their laws, but no country has been affected more than Singapore. Traditionally opposed to gambling in most of its forms, when faced with a potential loss of revenue, the government decided to follow the likes of Hong Kong and Norway in allowing certain sites and companies to operate online.
So, what is the current situation and how can you take a (legal) punt?
Singapore continues to hold a traditional and conservative approach when it comes to gambling. Until recently, physical gambling was strictly limited and 2014 saw the enacting of the Remote Gambling Act, which placed a blanket ban on all online or ‘remote’ gambling activities. By definition, this included any bets which took place via mobile phone, telephone, or other communication mediums. This resulted in the overnight blocking of several well-known online gambling sites such as Betfair, Ladbrokes and Bet365.
The act was recently amended to introduce exclusions for two local gambling sites: Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club. The reasons are obvious, with Singapore being the second-biggest market for gambling in the entire world. In 2010, the average Singaporean citizen lost S$1,189 (£663) annually in failed bets, which stacks up to a massive S$9.9bn annually across the whole country. Tapping into this market has given the economy a massive boost, attracting 11.6m tourists in 2015 and accounting for 1.7 per cent of the country’s GDP. By allowing these two institutions to take advantage of the ‘always-on’ online market, they have been able to greatly expand their ability to generate revenue.
However, it’s worth noting that the country takes the regulation and enforcement of its gambling laws extremely seriously. Recent changes are the result of an outcry from moderate politicians who have tried to put multiple roadblocks in place to avoid addiction, debt or overspend among citizens. Bans such as ‘Exclusion Orders’ are commonplace, and prevent people from being able to gamble if they have been bankrupted, are receiving financial aid, or are in arrears. There are currently a not-insignificant 1624 family enforced exclusions and 46,208 third-person orders in place. The government is also actively clamping down on organised crime and preventing trips from ‘high roller clubs’ coming into the country.
What options are currently available to locals and expats?
The government’s recent actions have made gambling with Singapore Pools and Turf Club legal, albeit with the enforcement of strict parameters. Like all online gambling, punting in Singapore is account-based, and gamblers have to go through extensive checks to prove that they are 21 or older. Each individual is allowed to have one and only one account and they are prompted to set a daily limit on how much they are able gamble, which can only be adjusted with a one-day buffer. Once registered, punters are forced to conduct an extensive verification process, and all forms of gambling on credit are fully prohibited.
While the aim of this is to encourage safe and responsible gambling, the strictures are part of a drive to eliminate illegal gambling and keep the sector free from criminal influence. There are also multiple checks and balances in place to help prevent laundering and to act against the financing of organised crime or terrorism.
The government has tried to shape these new online sites as ‘safe spaces’ where punters can be assured that they are gambling safely and responsibly.
So, what are these two sites like?
This site offers the ability to place bets in English and Chinese across a small range of events including international football and the local lottery. The site itself is sparse compared to expensive sites that UK gamers might be used to, and since gambling is not allowed to be encouraged, there is a distinct lack of offers or deals in place that encourage sign-ups or customer loyalty. The majority of the site is locked-off for non-members and is only accessible if you are currently based in Singapore. If you’re looking to register locally, this will only be possible with provision of full ID and a legitimate Foreign Identification Number (FIN).
The Turf Club is cut from a similar cloth as Singapore Pools, focusing entirely on horse racing while packing a little more technical clout. The site offers an app called iTote, which was launched in late 2016 and permits legitimate account holders to stake live horse races on their tablet, android or smartphone.
The site itself is extremely well laid out and intuitive to use on all devices, offering sprints, cup, and trial races in both Singapore and overseas. Unfortunately, the sign-up process can be extremely laborious, with a number of original ID documents required to validate who you are and a waiting period of at least two weeks for any one individual application.
What should you know about gambling in Singapore?
Always ensure your site is regulated: If you do choose to place a punt outside of the two regulated institutions, remember that there is a risk that you may be breaking the law. This can come with a heavy penalty of either a S$5,000 fine, six months of jail time or both. Illegal rings are also active in the online sphere and the government is actively working to clamp down on them, recently busting a ring of eleven individuals who are facing fines of S$20,000 – S$500,000 and up to five years in jail.
Stay up to date: There is a strong likelihood that the market will adjust again soon as the online punting sites enjoy more traffic and revenue as the year goes on. While this may be driven by technical improvements or legal changes, it is important to keep up to date with local news to avail of any new opportunities that may come up or hoops you may have to jump through to make sure that your bets are fully above board.
Restrictions: If you choose to gamble online in Singapore, it’s worth making your peace with the fact that there are going to be a number of obstacles in your way. Along with the previously mentioned daily limits on play, there are also serious restrictions on the sort of games available to bet on. Currently, this includes the existing lottery, soccer, horse racing and some F1 events. If these are to your taste, this will not be an issue. But if you’re looking for a little more variety, you may end up being disappointed…