We know gambling other than with exempted vendors such as Singapore Pools, or in circumstances which do not attract statutory exemptions or defences,is illegal in Singapore. However, with changes in technology and a proliferation of offerings in social media increasing the risk of online gambling addictions, how has the legal landscape changed to enforce Singapore’s “no illegal gambling” ethics?
For instance, in just less than 2 years since the enactment of the Remote Gambling Act in Feb 2016, more than 120 people have been arrested for illegal online gambling. A recent ruling had even considered how sentences for convictions against the same person under both the Remote Gambling Act and the earlier Common Gaming Houses Act ought to be dealt with.
Just what sort of online gaming can be constituted an offence? Furthermore, in what contexts may this offence be looked upon more harshly?
Remote Gambling Act
With the introduction of the Remote Gambling Act, most non-exempted online gambling sites have now been blocked from access in Singapore, either voluntarily by operators fearing enforcement action, or involuntarily as a result of the issuance of blocking orders against internet service providers. Banks have also blocked payments to such sites. As set out in the Act, a site is considered an illegal online gaming site if it allows “betting” or “games of chance” for consideration and for the purpose of winning money or money’s worth.
The Act further breaks down liability by the nature of one’s involvement with illegal gambling sites:
Participant in Unlawful Remote Gambling
Under Section 8 of the Act, gamblers “using remote communication” or a “remote gambling service” by non-exempt providers, are liable on conviction to up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine. The Section further clarifies that it does not matter whether the gambling is done alone or with others online.
Providing Unlawful Remote Gambling Services On Behalf Of Another
Under section 9 of the Act, the provision of illegal remote gambling services by an agent of an operator include the invitation of others to gamble with the principal of the agent, distribution of a prize or money, facilitation of participation by others in the gambling, and/or providing assistance in any of the aforesaid conduct.
Furthermore, it is “not necessary for the prosecution to prove the identity” of the participants in remote gambling if the gambling is carried out using equipment or facilities supplied by the accused, and if the facilities were “available for access by end-users in Singapore”.
Offenders for such facilitation are liable on conviction to a fine between $20,000–$200,000, and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years.
Providing Remote Gambling Services As Operator
Sections 10 and 11 of the Act criminalise the provision of remote gambling services, regardless of whether the operator is based in Singapore, or outside of Singapore. In the latter case, the offence lies in the provision of the gambling service to customers who were physically in Singapore at the time the gambling took place. Operators who violate sections 10 or 11 shall be liable on conviction to a fine of between $20,000 to $500,000, and/or imprisonment of up to 7 years.
Unlawful employment of or Invitation to Young Person in Remote Gambling
Section 12 of the Act prohibits persons under 21 from being employed to provide, facilitate, or promote illegal online gambling, while section 13 prohibits these young persons from being invited to gamble remotely.
Those who violate either sections shall be liable on conviction to a fine between $20,000 and $300,000, and/or imprisonment of up to 6 years.
For purposes of sections 12 and 13, it does not matter whether the remote gambling takes place wholly in Singapore, or party inside and partly outside Singapore.
Publishing of Remote Gambling Service Advertisement
As provided in Section 15 of the Act, publishers of advertisements for remote gambling services will be committing an offence if the published advertisement is accessed or is available for access in Singapore. They are then liable on conviction to a fine of up to $20,000.
Recently, the Courts have been willing to more harshly penalise those who provide illegal online gambling services as compared to illegal off-line gambling. In that case, the accused had been running poker tournaments in his office for a year. Later in the same year, the accused started to offer remote gambling services through the “PPPOKER” app. His private club on the app had “approximately 296 members” and he was responsible for the recruitment and rewards management within the club.
The accused was subsequently charged with both the provision of illegal remote gambling services under the Remote Gambling Act, as well as for operating a gambling den under the Common Gambling Houses Act. On conviction, the accused was sentenced to 4 weeks’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine in respect of the latter charge, and fined $20,000 and given a 14-month imprisonment term in respect of the former charge.
The Judge noted that online gambling, especially via mobile apps, had changed the landscape of gambling significantly, due to its ease of use, shelter of user anonymity, the availability of round-the-clock and immediate access, the convenience of cashless payment, the inoperability of gaming exclusion orders, and availability to all users regardless of age, maturity or credit worthiness. He also noted that gambling addiction would be harder to detect by family members, as playtime was not marked by physical absence. The Judge concluded that “there was a demonstrable need to criminalise all aspects of online gambling and to impose sufficient deterrence to check its growth”, and that “the accused’s Remote Gambling Act offence posed a far greater threat to society than the Common Gambling House Act offence”. This demonstrates the likelihood that punishments for offences under the Remote Gambling Act will be more severe than those under the Common Gaming Houses Act in order to reflect the greater threat posed by online gambling, and the need to impose sufficient deterrence to check its growth.
What else is illegal?
As discussed earlier, operating a common physical space for gambling activities is illegal under the Common Gaming Houses Act. Many gambling activities fell under this Act until the Remote Gambling Act was enacted to govern online gambling.
There has also been an increase in the promotion of gambling via “spam” text messages that advertise gambling sites opportunities for gambling, including loan offerings for gamblers. The Personal Data Protection Commission Singapore recommends for individuals to lodge a police report or call the National Crime Prevention Council to report such messages.
If you are unsure as to whether or not a particular online gaming activity that you wish to participate in may constitute an offence under the law, you should seek legal advice to clarify the matter before engaging in such an activity. It is not always clear to a layman whether an activity that is offered amounts to a game of chance (as opposed to a game of skill), or whether the rules of the game render the participation in the game illegal gambling. To avoid being exposed to criminal liability, it is thus best to have certainty over whether the gaming activity you wish to participate in is legal before proceeding.
Have a question regarding online gambling?
If you have any questions on online gambling, you can get a Quick Consult or other lawyers. With Quick Consult, from a transparent, flat fee of $49, a lawyer will call you on the phone within 1-2 days to give you legal advice.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.