Singapore Cracks down on Online Gambling

Maroshini K Morgan examines the Remote Gambling Act 2014.
Earlier this year, Singapore grabbed headlines when an anti-gambling advertisement it released to coincide with the World Cup backfired spectacularly. The ad featured a young boy forlornly telling a friend, “I hope Germany wins. My dad bet all my savings on them.
Notwithstanding the hilarity that ensued when Germany did in fact win the World Cup, the advertisement carries (or attempts to carry) a serious message: gambling, including online gambling, can be dangerous and destructive.
Online gambling, which is becoming an increasingly popular means to carry out sports and other forms of betting, is seen to be particularly hazardous due to the ease with which addicts can access gambling websites and the lack of regulation in place governing online gambling forums. Accordingly, Singapore has added the Remote Gambling Act 2014 (“RGA”) to its arsenal of anti-gambling legislation to curb this form of gambling.
This development is particularly pertinent to us here in Malaysia as the Attorney General (“AG”) had remarked on 28 October 2014 that his office intends to propose revisions to Malaysia’s existing anti-gambling regime to tackle online gambling. At present, while gambling is deemed illegal in Malaysia except in certain limited cases, for example where gaming operators have been duly licensed, there are no laws that specifically address online or remote gambling.
If the AG’s office follows through to develop anti-online gambling legislation, it is highly likely that regard will be had to the RGA. Below we take a deeper look at the RGA, whose provisions may give an indication as to the nature of any upcoming Malaysian laws governing online gambling.  
Akin to Malaysia, public gambling is generally (save for at licensed casinos or via certain state-run organisations) prohibited in Singapore. However, this prohibition is by virtue of pre-Internet-era laws that contain no references to gambling conducted online. It was therefore unclear if, and to what extent, these laws apply to online gambling.      
Clarifying the situation, the RGA, which was passed by Parliament this past October and which is set to come into force in 2015, criminalises all forms of unlicensed remote gambling in Singapore.
Firstly, the term ‘gambling’ is defined in Section 4 of the RGA as betting, gaming (further defined as “playing a game of chance for money or money’s worth”) or participating in a lottery. ‘Gambling services’, pursuant to Section 4, includes services for the conduct of a public lottery, for the placing and accepting of bets, and for the conduct of a game of chance where the game is played for money or money’s worth and a customer gives or agrees to give money or money’s worth to play or enter the game.
Given that ‘money’s worth’ is defined to include “virtual credits, virtual coins, virtual tokens, virtual objects or any similar thing that is purchased within, or as part of, or in relation to a game of chance”, commentators have pointed out that the definitions of ‘gambling’ and ‘gambling services’ are wide enough to capture video games or social network games which contain elements of virtual credit. Although the Singapore Government has stated that the RGA is not intended to apply to social games wherein players do not win real money or merchandise, it is to be noted that the language of the RGA grants the discretion to allow for the same.
Remote Gambling
In accordance with Section 5 of the RGA, ‘remote gambling’ “means gambling in which a person participates by the use of remote communication, even if the gambling is done only partly by means of remote communication.
‘Remote communication’ refers to communication, through the Internet, telephone, television, radio or any kind of electronic or other technology which facilitates communication. Thus, the RGA’s reach extends beyond gambling conducted over the Internet and may be wide enough to cover other forms of communication technology that may arise in the future.
‘Remote gambling service’ “means a gambling service provided to customers for them to participate in gambling by the use of remote communication” and includes the provision of facilities for remote gambling by others and the distribution of a prize offered in remote gambling in accordance with arrangements made by the provider or distributor, respectively.
Section 5(7) explicitly states that the provision or operation of facilities for network access or services relating to the transmission or routing of data is not deemed to be a remote gambling service. This should provide to comfort IT-service providers who would otherwise be considered as remote gambling service providers.
Essentially, the RGA makes it illegal for:
  1. an individual in Singapore to carry out remote gambling (Section 8);
  1. any person, in Singapore, to organise remote gambling, distribute a prize or money relating to remote gambling or facilitate participation by others in remote gambling (Section 9(2));
  1. any person, in Singapore, to organise remote gambling, distribute a prize or money relating to remote gambling or facilitate participation by others in remote gambling (Section 9(2));
  1. any person to provide a Singapore-based remote gambling service (Section 11(1)); and 
  1. any person to provide, outside Singapore, a remote gambling service with a Singapore-customer link (i.e. where any of the customers is physically present in Singapore)(Section 10(1)). 
In respect of the offence of providing a remote gambling service with a Singapore-customer link under Section 10(1), the provider has a defence if it did not know, and could not, with reasonable diligence, have ascertained, that the service had such a link. However, it is not easy to satisfy the second limb as the RGA requires the provider to, inter alia, inform prospective customers of Singapore’s prohibition of remote gambling services, and requires customers to contractually agree not to use the services in Singapore and to provide details to suggest that they are not in Singapore.
It is an offence under the RGA to employ a young person (i.e. a person below 21 years of age) in remote gambling or to invite, cause or permit a young person to remotely gamble in Singapore. It is also an offence to publish a remote gambling service advertisement or to promote remote gambling in Singapore.
Offences under the RGA are punishable with fines or a term of imprisonment or both.
In order to overcome the difficulty of enforcing the provisions applicable to overseas-based offenders, the RGA provides for blocking orders, wherein authorised officers, including police officers or employees of the Media Development Authority of Singapore, are empowered to direct an Internet service provider of an offending online location to take reasonable steps to disable access to that online location.
Additionally, authorised officers can direct financial institutions or financial transaction providers to block certain payments by persons in cases where the officers are satisfied that such persons are participating or have participated in any unlawful remote gambling activity. 
The RGA allows the Minister to award to Singapore-based operators, if it is in the public interest to do so, certificates of exemption which would permit certified operators to provide remote gambling services with a Singapore-customer link. It is likely that such certificates of exemption will only be granted in limited circumstances as the RGA explicitly states that in granting such certificates, the Minister may have regard to, amongst other considerations, whether the operator is established in Singapore and whether the operator is a not-for-profit entity and distributes its funds to public, social or charitable purposes in Singapore.
The comprehensive range of offences and robust enforcement powers under the RGA grant the authorities the means to stamp out unlicensed online gambling in the city-state. Singapore clearly means business. It remains to be seen whether Malaysia will follow suit.