Online Gambling exemptions: Let’s focus on the more difficult issues instead

Recently Workers’ Party issued a statement calling on the Government to disallow online betting, after hearing that Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club applied to the Ministry of Home Affairs to launch online betting services. There is also an online petition going on demanding a stop to the legalisation of online gambling in Singapore, which drew 10,000 signatures in less than 2 weeks.

While it is easy to see the logic of these calls to disallow online gambling in Singapore, those who are quick to judge the Government for even contemplating the legalisation of online gambling, may have forgotten that they had in fact enacted and passed a law called the Remote Gambling Act (RGA) in 2014, to criminalise all forms of online betting and its associated activities. However, they made provisions for exemption under stringent conditions.

The argument made by the Government for this exemption clause, is that a complete ban may drive such activities underground, and “exacerbate the associated law and order and social concerns”.

Indeed, other jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Norway, have also recognised the challenge of implementing a restrictive online gambling regime, and provided for a regulated authorised operator framework instead.

We all know that online gambling is rampant in Singapore, especially when it comes to soccer betting.

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It doesn’t help that we are a lot more connected to the Internet now than ever before. And I must say it is an activity that is very hard to control and regulate. For every website blocked, there is another that may come up, and it is always possible to go around the system.

The RGA has attempted to do as much as it can, to block gambling websites, to block electronic fund transfers to and from online gambling operators, making advertising of such sites illegal etc. But it is naïve to think that we can totally eradicate this problem.

But we can try to control it, to the best of our ability.

And with all policies, there will be decisions which we will never be fully sure of, and there will be always be opposing views. I do not know whether the exemption regime is better than completely banning all forms of online gambling. It seems like a plausible argument, but one may also argue like WP or the people who signed the petition, that online gambling is a big evil and should be rooted out completely.

But let’s not forget it is impossible to eradicate it completely.

So, instead of focusing on why the Government is going to issue licenses to exempt operators from running online gambling activities, why don’t we ask ourselves instead how do we discourage people from gambling in the first place? How effective really are the measures by the Government after the Act has come into force since 2 February 2015? Has the situation improved since then?

Surely that is more productive than trying to politicise this issue and blaming the Government for not trying hard enough.