Bills Introduced in Singapore Parliament to Remodel Gambling Regulations

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Bills Introduced in Singapore Parliament to Remodel Gambling Regulations
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Two bills introduced for First Reading in the Singapore Parliament on 14 February aim to address the evolving landscape of gambling in Singapore. Specifically, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Singapore Bill expands the mandate of the Casino Regulatory Authority—a statutory board—by reconstituting it to establish the Gambling Regulatory Authority, while the Gambling Control Bill updates gambling laws and regulatory approaches.

BACKGROUND

In April 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that it would reconstitute the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) to establish the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA), which would regulate the entire gambling landscape in Singapore, and look into amending all gambling legislation by 2021 to effectively address evolving gambling products and business models. In July 2021, the MHA carried out a public consultation on certain proposed amendments to the existing gambling legislation to expand the definition of gambling to be technology-neutral, increase the regulation of games with gambling elements, and relax regulations on social gambling.

The published by the MHA on 14 February relating to the First Reading of the (GRA Bill) and the (GC Bill) noted that the Singapore government adopts a strict but pragmatic approach toward gambling that aims to minimise its social harms and maintain law and order. The press release stated that gambling is prohibited unless licensed or exempted, and that some forms of gambling are allowed in a controlled and safe environment, as total prohibition would drive even more gambling underground.

The MHA noted that the new draft laws seek to address two trends in the gambling landscape: (1) advancements in technology (e.g., internet and mobile computing) that have made gambling products more accessible, and (2) the blurring of boundaries between gambling and gaming and the introduction of gambling elements in products that are traditionally not perceived as gambling.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE GRA

Gambling regulation in Singapore is currently overseen by various government agencies. The CRA regulates the land-based casinos, the Gambling Regulatory Unit in the MHA regulates online gambling services and fruit machines, while the Singapore Totalisator Board regulates physical gambling services operated by Singapore Pools. The Singapore Police Force is responsible for enforcement, while the Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for social safeguards to address the harms of gambling.

However, under the GRA Bill, these government agencies will be rationalised and consolidated, and the GRA will become the single regulator for all forms of gambling. This is for the purposes of staying ahead of technological and global trends, responding more adequately to emerging gambling products, and taking a more holistic and coherent approach to gambling policies and issues. The GRA is expected to be established by mid-2022.

AMENDMENTS TO EXISTING GAMBLING LEGISLATION

The existing gambling legislation in Singapore will be amended as follows:

  • Introduction of the new GC Bill to cover unlawful gambling offences and regulation of non-casino gambling
  • Correspondingly, repeal of the existing gambling legislation, namely the Betting Act (BA), Common Gaming Houses Act (CGHA), Private Lotteries Act, and the Remote Gambling Act (RGA)
  • Introduction of the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill at a later date to enhance GRA’s effectiveness in regulating the casinos

ADDRESSING NEW TRENDS IN GAMBLING

Definition of Gambling

The GC Bill will amend the definition of gambling to make it technology-neutral to cover existing and emerging gambling products. For example, the scope of betting will go beyond horseracing and sporting events to include the outcome of any competition, event, or process. However, the expansion of the definition will not cover products that MHA has no intention of treating as gambling products (e.g., investments in financial products already regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore through other legislation).

Social Gambling

Social gambling is not prohibited by current gambling legislation but is also not clearly defined. The GC Bill will specifically include an exemption regime for social gambling among family and friends conducted in homes, subject to certain conditions (e.g., participants must be members of the same family or friends, the gambling cannot be conducted in the course of any business, and it must take place in an individual's home). However, the exemption will not apply to online social gambling, as it would be difficult to establish if individuals are sufficiently and meaningfully acquainted with each other in the online context to qualify as social gambling.

Licensing Regimes

Under the GC Bill, the GRA will take over regulation from the different governing agencies for key gambling products. The GRA will be empowered to issue gambling operator licences for products such as fruit machines, Singapore Pools’ products (both physical and online), and gambling at private establishments.

The GC Bill also introduced class licensing regimes for lower-risk gambling products. Operators offering such products will not need to be individually licensed, but the GRA will maintain oversight and introduce safeguards to ensure that such products do not induce gambling behaviour and cause social problems. For example, it is intended that a class licence will be required for mystery boxes sold by retailers subject to the retail value of prizes being capped at $100. Details on the conditions for each class-licensed activity will be released when the relevant subsidiary legislation is available.

UPDATING AND HARMONIZING GAMBLING OFFENCES

Penalties for Unlawful Gambling

The GC Bill rationalises offences and penalties across the existing pieces of gambling legislation. A three-tier penalty structure will be applied consistently for both unlawful online and physical unlawful gambling activity, and differentiates between punters, agents, and operators. The highest penalties will be imposed on operators, followed by agents and then punters (in order of culpability).

Penalties for unlawful gambling will also be increased to send a strong deterrent signal to criminal syndicates. The GC Bill imposes mandatory imprisonment for agents and operators of unlawful gambling activities and will also feature higher penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate unlawful gambling services.

New Offence of Proxy Gambling

Proxy gambling in casinos and fruit machine rooms will be criminalised under the GC Bill. Proxy gambling refers to individuals within the gambling area acting on the instruction of a decision maker outside the gambling area. This will be prohibited, as the decision maker would have bypassed the entry checks put in place to screen out individuals of concern such as those under entry bans.

ENHANCING SOCIAL SAFEGUARDS

Offences Pertaining to Underaged Individuals

Under the GC Bill, the minimum age for gambling will remain at 21 years old, except for gambling at Singapore Pools’ physical outlets, which will remain at 18 years old. Two social safeguard offences pertaining to underaged individuals will be introduced. Firstly, it will be a criminal offence for underaged individuals to gamble, whether with legal or unlawful operators, and secondly, it will be a criminal offence for underaged individuals to enter gambling areas (except where entry checks are not required). Singapore Pools’ physical outlets are excluded from this offence as they are not required to conduct entry checks. These outlets are open areas with easy access, and underaged individuals may enter unknowingly with no intention to gamble.

Offences Pertaining to Excluded Individuals

Offences pertaining to excluded individuals will be introduced under the GC Bill. Such excluded individuals will not be permitted to gamble or enter gambling areas across all platforms and locations where exclusion orders imposed by the National Council on Problem Gambling exclusion are applicable (i.e., fruit machine rooms and Singapore Pools’ online gambling). This offence, however, will not apply to individuals under self-exclusion orders, to avoid deterring such individuals from applying for this exclusion. Operators that gamble with underaged or excluded individuals, or that allow such individuals to enter gambling areas, will be liable for an offence or disciplinary action by GRA.

Offences Related to Advertising and Promotion

Presently, the threshold for proving an Advertising and Promotion (A&P) offence is lower for unlawful online gambling under the RGA compared to unlawful physical gambling under the BA and CGHA. For online gambling, an A&P offence can be disclosed even if there is no online gambling involved. On the other hand, for physical gambling, the A&P offence must be linked to actual unlawful physical gambling activities. Existing laws in this respect will be updated to apply consistent treatment to A&P offences across gambling modalities, based on the current thresholds for online gambling.

The draft legislation introduced by the GRA Bill and the GC Bill is wide-ranging and will have significant implications on all gambling operators. It constitutes a new statutory board to regulate the entire gambling landscape in Singapore, creates new gambling offences, increases penalties for unlawful gambling (both physically and online), and introduces a licensing regime for all gambling products, including a form of class regime for online games that allow users to get items with monetary value by chance (e.g., mystery boxes). Operators of land-based casinos and operators of online games with gambling elements will need to carefully monitor the passing of the GRA Bill and the GC Bill and consider the effects it will have on their operations. For example, operators of online games with gambling elements (e.g., mystery boxes) may fall under the class licensing regime and may need to make adjustments to ensure that their operations abide by the conditions and safeguards that will be imposed.

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