Public Consultation for Gambling Law Reform in Singapore

One of the high-ranking developed countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore, is about to collect the opinion of the public in respect of the country’s proposed gambling law reform. The Southeast Asian “City in a Garden” is about to toughen the Law for the operation of its gambling industry.

Public Consultation for Gambling Law Reform in Singapore

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Singapore said that it will use an inclusive and pragmatic process to develop a more comprehensive framework for regulating the gambling industry in the country. Consequently, it has adopted the use of public opinion polling. According to the MHA, Singapore will collect as much public feedback as possible until August 10, 2021, when the public consultation will close and responses will be assessed.

Gaming and online gambling overlap, plus technological evolution in gambling operations, are some of the main reasons for the proposed gambling law reform in Singapore. The introduction of gambling-related features in gaming products that are traditionally different from gambling products has created an existing overlap between ‘online gaming’ and ‘online gambling.’ More and more businesses and providers of iGaming products have developed new gaming products that, while trying to evolve to meet players’ changing tastes and preferences, turned out to be gambling products. Thus, this unwholesome development blurred the essential distinction between these two products. In response, the Ministry said that it will strive to provide clear recommendations on what is included and not included in gambling. In terms of social gambling, such as gambling in social groups like family and friends, the distinction between social gambling and gambling will also be provided. However, gambling (whether physically or online) in social groups will remain legal.

Now as to gambling-related financial products, the MHA said that those already being regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore will be excluded from the planned reform because they will not be deemed to be gambling. This aspect is important to the planned reforms as online and video games now increasingly integrate in-game microtransactions like loot boxes, which can resemble gambling. Besides, loot boxes and other similar microtransactions have been a major source of frustration for many jurisdictions, prompting calls for more regulation. According to the ministry’s proposed standards, any sort of game that provides incentives to its customers to buy in-game products that include a random reward would be subject to a $100 restriction.

Singapore will essentially modify its Remote Gambling Act to become more aggressive about dealing with offenders. One of the suggested modifications is to increase punishments for serial offenders, hence, referring to parties or persons that assist unlawful gambling operations or seek participation for such websites. Illegal operators and their owners will face fines of up to $500,000 and up to seven years in jail under the proposed amendments.

Furthermore, while the ministry plans to follow other jurisdictions’ footsteps in developing a technology-neutral sector that is not hampered by a faulty definition of what constitutes a gambling product, it wants to avoid over-regulating the Singaporean gambling industry. “We are careful not to over-regulate. We recognise that many Singaporeans consider mystery boxes, arcade games and claw machines as a form of entertainment. However, there remains a need for safeguards to ensure that these activities do not induce gambling behaviour and cause social problems,” said the Ministry.

Upon creating these clear differences and establishing the new gambling law reform in Singapore, as expected, violators of the Law will be sanctioned. “We will take strong enforcement action against syndicates which exploit this exemption to conduct illegal gambling activities,” said the MHA.

We have observed and reported some trends in online gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as changes in consumer behaviour and business operations and legal reforms in Germany and some other countries; however, the case of Singapore is special because of the collection of public opinion about the government’s planned regulation of the industry. It is an interesting, laudable and imitable development that the planned gambling law reform in Singapore is taking a far more pragmatic approach, allowing for the licensing or exemption of certain gaming/gambling activities while protecting consumers, and including public opinion.

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August 2022
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