Outrageous to legalize online gambling in Singapore

I’m outraged and I’m disgusted.

I came home from work today and read the news that the Singapore government had allowed Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club to operate online betting services.

Just like that.

No Parliamentary debate. No call for public feedback or consultation. No protests from any PAP minister or member of Parliament. No squeak from the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Maybe I missed all of that, let me know if I’ve not been keeping up with the news.

(Update: A reader shared the 2014 Parliamentary debate on this matter, thank you! This obviously flew under most of our noses. Here’s the brief 2014 Straits Times story covering it, and I thank MPs Denise Phua, Png Eng Huat, Pritam Singh and NCMP Yee Jenn Jong for trying to prevent today’s tragic situation.)

When do we really have a say?

People like to call Singapore a nanny state. Honestly, I do not mind living in a nanny state if the nanny appears to know what it is doing for the people’s well-being.

Sometimes, this nanny state insists it wants to have a conversation with its citizens to solicit your precious feedback. Other times, you do not know best, so let their experts decide.

I was a young kid when the Government banned chewing gum decades ago on a whim.

Life went on and it was great that we stopped having to step on sticky goo on the floor. Some people were upset, but most of us just switched to other types of chewies.

Then once in a while,  the Government will spend a lot of air-time on subjects the masses do not really care about.

For example, when the G recently decided to entertain some big debate over an elected presidency, I wondered what was the big deal.

It’s not like the President actually does anything important for our livelihoods on a day to day basis. Like helping to create jobs or something the average Joe would appreciate.

And when the public makes a fuss about Olympic contenders not being able to defer from National Service, it takes an ACS boy like Joseph Schooling to finally win gold at the Olympics before the G grudgingly agrees that maybe holding off army training for a few individuals isn’t going to lead the country to ruin.

But allowing online gambling just like that – it’s unacceptable on any level. There is no intellectual discourse you can have about this – it’s just wrong.

What’s the real rationale?

Please, do not give us the excuse that if you do not allow online gambling, people will go underground and create more problems.

Not unless you have the data to back this up – are more citizens falling victim to global criminal syndicates in the past few years?

Why don’t we legalize drugs then instead of hanging drug smugglers? Problem gambling does the same damage to families, albeit on a different dimension.

Or how about smoking? We all know it causes lung cancer, so the G has increasingly banned it from almost every public space without asking for nary an opinion.

That’s okay, even if smokers get cheesed off, because we all know the dangers associated with smoking, black lungs and all.

Smokers will look for a yellow box or smoking corner, no problem.

For gambling, we already have “yellow boxes” in the form of physical betting outlets and a contained crowd of dour-faced citizens at the Turf Club in faraway Kranji.

Now, you want to take away the yellow boxes and let every single kid who is smart enough to circumvent an online verification system with an adult’s ID to gamble on his couch?

Perhaps we should let people order cigarettes online too, as long as operators meet the G’s “stringent criteria”.

Gambling is addictive (duh) and there is absolutely no need to provide another safety valve to ease the frustrations of disgruntled gamblers. These guys need help to cure their addiction, not make it easier for them to fall deeper into the cracks.

If they want to gamble online with banned foreign sites, you can bet they know how to access them from Singapore. (pun intended).

There is a difference between allowing casinos and legalizing online betting. The difference is that you are telling our kids we should make it more convenient for you to try your luck at becoming rich, since everyone has a smartphone.

Why did Singapore Pools and STC apply for an online licence? To keep up with the competition with technology, or to stem revenue losses? Someone tell me, please. The news stories do not say at all.

As the Worker’s Party correctly pointed out in their restrained appeal to block this attempt by Singapore Pools and STC :

There are no lack of legal gambling venues in Singapore, including the two casinos and hundreds of outlets accepting bets for Singapore Pools and STC.

When the government decided to clamp down on remote gambling in 2014, it cited concerns about addictive behaviour and easy access to these games. Should the Government approve their applications, Singapore Pools and STC will have 24/7 virtual betting outlets available in almost every home and mobile device.

This convenience may encourage Singaporeans to take up the habit and possibly become a gateway to more serious gambling. The social costs of gambling on families are well documented, and the number of problem gambling cases in Singapore has been on the rise.

It makes little sense for the government to close one door on remote gambling in order to “protect young persons and other vulnerable persons”, while opening another door that exposes them to the ills of gambling in their homes.

During CNY periods in the past, my friends would egg me on to go buy a lottery ticket so I can join in the fun to win a few million bucks.

Unless one person offered to buy for everyone, I never bothered to join in this harmless donation of a few dollars to Singapore Pools.

Making it inconvenient for people to line up and gamble is already an effective deterrent for many members of the public.

Putting 4D and Toto online and making it as accessible as a mobile app or website is courting trouble on an unprecedented scale. There was an online petition that went around to stop this, but that is like trying to talk to a brick wall.

I sat down with my kids during dinner today and told them I was outraged with what happened. They did not understand why, because they have never met a problem gambler or a loan shark victim.

For goodness sake, Gahmen, please don’t allow policies that encourage more families to destroy themselves, and then spend tax dollars to run fancy anti-gambling ads that do little to help hooked gamblers or their children.

Can someone in the Government at least speak up against this? Let us know that you actually care.

Photo credit: Image from the National Council On Problem Gambing’s video : Excuses.

10 Replies to “Outrageous to legalize online gambling in Singapore”

  1. I believe it has to do with money that they are not getting. Based on numbers about 10 years ago, Pools revenue from sports betting was about $400-$500m, but market research conducted at that time showed that the total market for sports betting in Singapore was actually more towards $5b, which meant that $4.5b was going to the illegal operators.

    So since the people are already betting, might as well make it a more controlled environment where they can tap into this illegal market as well as possibly identifying and helping the problem gamblers.

    1. Agree with Daniel. It’s all about getting money for the depleting coffers.
      There’s good and bad. The bad part we already know from your report. The good part is whoever registered on the proposed gambling website will be monitored closely.

    2. Who is to say that the increased tax dollars from funnelling already-gamblers from illegal gambling operators into these newly legalised online gambling avenues is not going to detrimentally enlarge the gambling population?
      Maybe Pools revenue increase 2-fold to SGD 1b (increased tax dollars, KPIs met, congrats), but what if it meant a consequential SGD 2b growth of total market for sports betting?
      Or if optimism is chosen, maybe there is only marginal increase in total market whilst raking in substantial increases in tax dollars.

      But is there a need to dance even closer to the cliff?
      Gambling is not like a normal goods market that when you can throttle back demand with supply pricing/policies. It is a learnt human behaviour (maybe even inherent, judging from weekly 4D/Toto queues), it hooks easily, and it can destroy lives. So… let’s capitalise on it? By… making it easier to gamble?

      As mentioned, there is “no lack of legal gambling venues”. So this is really about unlocking more tax dollars from lives then. Perhaps there are acceptable degrees of destitution.

      Maybe we are already embracing the freefall. Yes, online cigarette sales next, right?

    1. Yes it does, and thanks for sharing this because I wasn’t aware of this transcript or debate. What’s fascinating about the long read is that nobody discusses what’s the incentive for SG Pools or STC to offer online betting, but the defence is on proving the non-viability of a total ban.

      “Those who argue, like Mr Pritam Singh, that they need evidence, and they argue for the counter-factual, that if we have a complete ban, then the problem will be no worse, I would ask you to produce the evidence. Because our evidence is our experience, what we have done over the last five decades, and this is the outcome. So, if you believe a complete ban can produce a superior outcome, then please produce the evidence.”

  2. What this article does not consider is that the gamblers are already playing online- just illegally.

    Stopping the legislation solves nothing. Not allowing legal online gambling solves nothing.

    What you want is to tap the revenue from these gamblers and funnel the profit into community services like problem gambling rehab services etc rather than let it go to waste in the hands of illegal operators.

    The Govt has always been pragmatic – why let these billions of revenue go to waste year after year enriching some international syndicate?

    1. We can’t solve the gambling nature of man, but should we give it fuel and take advantage of it? I am pragmatic too, but we need to demonstrate moral leadership , if not it is always just about the money.

  3. Given a choice, those who are already betting illegally, will continue with the illegal way. Reason? The odds and payout are more attract and best of all? They accept lower amount of bets compared with Singapore Pools.

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