The legalisation of online gambling in Singapore late last year opened a brand new chapter in the city-state’s centuries-old gambling culture. Here we take a closer look at the easing of online betting restrictions and what it really means for those at risk of gambling addiction.
In September 2016 the Singapore government announced plans to relax laws around online gambling, paving the way for gamblers to legally bet on sports events and lotto games from their own homes. This prompted some experts to raise concerns over increased gambling addiction in Singapore as a result.
By the end of October, Singapore Pools, one of two companies permitted to offer online gambling services, rolled out its first online betting services. The other company, Singapore Turf Club, launched its online service in November.
Not surprisingly, the relaxing of online gambling laws in Singapore has been a controversial move, causing “deep concern” in some quarters. A Blackbox poll published in mid-December found that most Singaporeans were opposed to the move. It found:
- 74 percent of respondents were either opposed or strongly opposed to both online and offline gambling
- 76 percent of respondents were concerned that the new exemptions will exacerbate gambling addiction in Singapore
- 60 percent of respondents were opposed to the new exemptions
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs defended the move, saying “a complete ban would only serve to drive remote gambling underground, making it harder to detect, and exacerbate the associated law and order, and social concerns.”
That argument appears to have some merit. The Straits Times reported in October that it was not difficult for determined gamblers to place illegal bets online. Almost 300 people were arrested in Singapore for illegal gambling last year, with about 50 charged under the Remote Gambling Act. Meanwhile, a Ministry of Home Affairs survey carried out in 2013 found that three out of 10 internet users had gambled online at least once in the past year.
The Singapore government is also quick to point out that both of the approved online betting operators are required to put strict social safeguards in place to minimize any possible negative impacts. Gamblers have to be aged 21 or above to open accounts, gambling on credit is prohibited and both operators must set daily funding and gambling limits. If they fail to comply they could face fines of up to S$1 million and/or have have their exemption status revoked. Notably, casino games such as blackjack or poker are not available to be played online.
Gambling in Singapore
The opening of the online gambling space in Singapore is just the latest development in the city-state’s long history of betting. From the lucrative gambling farms of the early 19th century to the high-end casinos of today, there has been a strong gambling culture in Singapore for centuries.
Even before the government announced plans in 2004 to build luxurious gambling resorts in Marina South and Sentosa, Singaporeans were already gambling away billions of dollars every year on lottery and sports betting. Not including illegal betting, S$7 billion was spent on gambling in 2004, with Singapore Pools, the state-owned lottery operator, reporting a turnover of $4 billion.
A 2005 survey by the Ministry of Communication Youth and Sports (MCYS) found that 58 percent of Singaporeans aged 18 years and above had gambled in the past year, with 2.1 percent in danger of gambling addiction. It is amid this well-established gambling culture that legal online betting became available late last year.
Is Online Betting Really More Addictive?
Remote gambling has grown into a massive global business over the past decade. Today, it is thought to be worth about US$40 billion a year and is growing at a rate of 6-8 percent per year. Clearly more people are turning to the online gambling space, drawn by the comfort and convenience of betting from their own home or mobile device.
While there is concern that the widespread exposure to gambling that online gaming websites provide increase the chances of addiction and gambling problems, recent research suggests that there has been no significant increase in unhealthy gambling habits since the advent of online gambling.
A series of studies on the addictiveness of online gambling by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addiction found that the vast majority, 95-99 percent, were infrequent betters who gambled in moderation.
“The very first thing we learned, which we didn’t expect, was that the vast majority, the overwhelming majority, of gamblers online gamble in a very moderate and mild way,” said HMS Associate Professor of Psychology Howard Shaffer at the time.
The study also found that online gamblers were more likely to regulate their betting behaviour than those who gamble in casinos.
While no official figures have emerged so far on online gambling in Singapore since the exemptions came into place, the existing evidence and strict social safeguards suggest that the relaxed laws are unlikely to cause a dramatic shift in Singapore’s gambling landscape. With so many gambling opportunities outside the online space and the strong gambling culture that already exists, the dangers surrounding gambling addiction existed in Singapore long before the arrival of online betting.
Further, legal online gambling will give authorities the opportunity to build a clearer picture of Singaporeans’ betting habits, potentially allowing them to identify the danger areas for gamblers in Singapore and to take clear and targeted action.
Are You At Risk?
While the vast majority of people can happily lay the occasional bet with no adverse effects, for some gambling addiction is a very real problem that can ruin lives and destroy homes. If you are worried that your gambling habit is spiralling out of control you should look for some of the tell-tale signs of gambling addiction:
- You are constantly trying to win back the money you have lost
- You gamble when you are feeling anxious or depressed
- You are preoccupied with getting more money to gamble, or you find yourself asking for loans so you can gamble
- You lie to family and friends about your gambling habits
- Your gambling is affecting your home and/or professional life
- You are gambling larger and larger amounts to get the same rush
If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms it may be time to seek help. The Cabin Singapore offers specialised treatment for gambling addiction in a discreet and confidential setting. If you or a loved one is struggling with gambling addiction, contact us today to find out how we can help you.