Singapore lawmakers are moving to restrict remote gambling activities. When in place, the proposed measures could be one of the most comprehensive undertaken by any jurisdiction. The following is a transcript of a speech given by Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran at the Third Singapore Symposium on Casino Regulation and Crime at The Police Cantonment Complex Auditorium.
I am pleased to join you at the 3rd Singapore Symposium on Casino Regulation and Crime. Held biennially, this symposium has been an important platform for the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) to forge closer ties and exchange ideas with their local and overseas partners in casino regulation and law enforcement. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all participants, especially our foreign guests who have made a special effort to join us at this symposium.
The casino industry is set to grow rapidly in the Asia Pacific region in the next few years. According to the Global Gaming Outlook report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the projected gaming revenue from the Asia Pacific region could reach US$80b, and account for 43% of global revenue, by 2015.
This growth is fuelled by more Asia-Pacific economies planning to develop casinos. This trend is also reflected in the growing Asian presence at this symposium. This year, we are joined by our regulatory and law enforcement partners from many regional countries – Macau, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Brunei, China and the Philippines.
These developments in the casino industry and gaming activities can also lead to greater exposure to the risk of transnational crimes. Keeping our casinos free from criminal influence will continue to be a key challenge for Singapore, as well as law enforcement agencies and regulators from other jurisdictions.
Since the opening of the casinos three years ago, crimes in the casinos have accounted for less than 1% of overall crime in Singapore. This has been possible through a close partnership between the Police and CRA, and a strict enforcement regime.
But the situation is dynamic and criminal syndicates are constantly evolving their modus operandi. Hence, we need constant vigilance, to ensure a regulatory regime that is relevant and effective. Singapore amended its Casino Control Act last year to strengthen our levers to tackle casino-related crimes. Specific offences such as cheating at play, collusion and the possession of unlawful devices to counterfeit chips, were created to comprehensively deal with the range of casino crimes.
With globalisation, criminal activities are increasingly transnational in nature. It is therefore important for law enforcement agencies and regulators to collaborate closely across borders, and share best practices and information, in order to fight all crime including casino crime. This symposium is a valuable opportunity to network and learn from each other.
In addition, there are platforms like the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR), Gaming Regulators European Forum (GREF) and the North America Gaming Regulators Association (NAGRA), which allow for collaboration among regulators. We need a similar forum for Asian regulators.
Although a relative newcomer, Singapore’s CRA can play an important role in bringing together Asian regulators, and facilitating substantive engagement with their European and American counterparts. The recent appointment of CRA’s Chief Executive, Mr Lau Peet Meng, as the President of IAGR is an opportunity for Asian regulators to benefit from the wealth of expertise within this global network, and to stay abreast of new and evolving trends in the gaming industry.
Remote gambling is one such evolving trend. The revenue of the global remote gambling industry in 2012 was estimated at US$35b, with an expected annual growth rate of about 9%. This is about five times the expected growth for conventional terrestrial gambling.
Consequently, many countries have been reviewing their regulatory regimes to keep pace with this rapidly evolving industry. Internationally, there is a wide spectrum of regulatory approaches. Some countries have an open remote gambling market with many licensed operators offering a wide array of gambling products. In France, there are 20 remote gambling operators offering products such as poker, sports betting and horse racing. There are even more remote gambling operators in the UK, with a wider variety of gambling products including casino-type games.
Other countries have a more restricted remote gambling market. Typically, they have allowed one or two operators to offer a small number of products, subject to certain requirements including social safeguards. In Norway, remote gambling is offered by two state-owned operators which channel surpluses to social causes such as charities, sports and culture. In Hong Kong, the Jockey Club (HKJC) is the only licensee that offers horse racing, Mark 6 Lottery and football betting through both terrestrial and remote gambling platforms. HKJC is a not-for-profit organisation which uses its surplus revenue to support charitable and community projects as well as social welfare initiatives.
Many jurisdictions have also implemented various measures to prevent unauthorised operators from targeting their citizens. France, Italy and Denmark have measures to block access to unauthorised gambling websites. In the UK, it is an offence for unlicensed gambling operators to target its residents or advertise through online and terrestrial channels. Norway and the United States require financial intermediaries to block payment transactions with unauthorised gambling operators.
In Singapore, we have strict laws on gambling to maintain law and order and to minimise the potential harm, especially to the young and vulnerable. Under our laws, the provision of gambling is not permitted unless specifically allowed for, by way of an exemption or license. However, our current laws do not expressly address remote gambling as they were enacted before the Internet era.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other government agencies have been studying the issue of remote gambling.
In NCPG’s 2011 gambling participation survey of the general population, 1% of respondents indicated that they gambled online. While this may seem low, we must be cognizant of the growing popularity of remote gambling and the associated risks. Indeed, some analysts estimate that the size of the remote gambling market in Singapore could be over US$300m, and it is expected to grow by 6-7% annually.
Remote gambling gives us cause for concern for several reasons. First, it is ubiquitously and easily accessible through the Internet and mobile applications, especially by a younger and more tech-savvy generation. In a recent online survey of around 1,000 Internet users commissioned by MHA, we found that almost 3 in 10 respondents had gambled remotely at least once in the past year. This is not surprising as one can gamble anonymously from almost any location at any time.
Second, the nature and design of the games, especially poker and casino-type games, lend themselves to repetitive play and addictive behaviour. This is well documented in both local and overseas research. The 2011 survey by the National Council for Problem Gambling (NCPG) found that online gamblers had poorer self-control, were more likely to gamble at a higher frequency, for a longer duration, and with more money than they had initially planned.
Thirdly, from a law and order perspective, remote gambling operations can potentially become a source or conduit of funds for other illegal activities and syndicated crime. These operators are beyond our jurisdiction and they operate without restrictions or limitations on the types of games they can offer or the promotions and advertising they undertake. It is therefore important that we take proactive steps to address these concerns.
Hence, as an extension of our current laws, the government intends to restrict remote gambling by making it illegal unless there are specific exemptions. We will introduce new laws to give our enforcement agencies the powers to act against facilitators, intermediaries and providers of remote gambling services. We will introduce measures to block access to gambling websites, block payments to remote gambling operators, and prohibit advertisements promoting remote gambling. While such measures may not be foolproof, they will impede access to remote gambling platforms and send a clear signal of the regulatory stance in Singapore.
To divert gambling away from unauthorised and unregulated operators, some jurisdictions like Hong Kong have allowed a limited form of remote gambling through a strictly regulated authorised entity. Our agencies will carefully consider provisions for a similar tightly controlled exemption in Singapore, with constraints on the type of operator and stringent social safeguards. We will launch a public consultation exercise through REACH and seek the views of various stakeholders, as we formulate the regulatory framework to restrict remote gambling.
Apart from remote gambling products, games that simulate gambling are rising in popularity on social media platforms. The distinction between social gaming and online gambling is blurring, with some games on social media platforms closely modelled on casino-style games. These seemingly harmless games can desensitise youths to the dangers and ills of gambling.
To address this, we will strengthen public education efforts with regard to remote gambling and gambling simulation games. The National Council for Problem Gambling (NCPG) will broaden and intensify public education efforts to raise awareness of the risks involved. At the same time, MSF will work with NCPG and other agencies such as educational institutions, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), cyber-wellness groups and parent groups to implement public education and outreach initiatives.
These trends in remote gambling illustrate the dynamic nature of the gaming industry, which will continue to evolve and present new challenges for regulators and law enforcers.
Even as each of our countries continue to grow capabilities and expertise, international collaboration among regulators and enforcement agencies will be crucial if we are to stay ahead of these trends.
I urge everyone to make full use of the opportunity afforded by this symposium to share your insights, and strengthen ties with your colleagues. I wish you a fruitful and productive symposium. Thank you.