Gambling in Singapore
Gambling in Singapore is controlled by a few statutes such as the Common Gaming Houses Act, Remote Gambling Act, Private Lotteries Act and Remote Gambling Act. Singapore Pools is the only operator that is legally allowed to run lotteries in the country. Casinos are allowed in Singapore in the form of integrated resorts (IR), such as Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, where the casino is integrated in a major resort property that includes a hotel, together with convention facilities, entertainment shows, theme parks, luxury retail and fine dining. Societies are allowed to operate slot machines in designated rooms under the Private Lotteries Act.
In 1923, gambling was briefly legalized in the then-British colony of Singapore, but the experiment led to gambling addiction and increased crime, and gambling was criminalised again within three years.
In the following decades, the operation of legal gambling in Singapore was limited to the government-run Singapore Pools for lotteries, and Singapore Turf Club for horse racing. However, during a parliament session on 18 April 2005, Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, announced the cabinet's decision to develop two casinos and associated hotels and malls in Marina South and Sentosa. Prior to the development of the integrated resorts, locals would primarily gamble on crusie ships that sailed in the international waters just beyond Singapore's control. These cruising casinos remained a draw to those who were deterred by the S$ 100 entry fee for the land-based casinos.
The government stated that the aim of the project was to boost Singapore's tourism industry which had been facing intense competition from other destinations around the region, particularly from nearby Bangkok and Hong Kong, which has since also considered legalisation of casinos in the wake of initiatives in Singapore. Even closer to home, Malaysia has long had a legal casino cum theme park on Genting Highlands, which proved popular with Singaporean tourists. The IRs in Singapore were expected to create about 35,000 jobs directly and indirectly. In addition to the casinos, the IRs will have other amenities including hotels, restaurants, shopping and convention centers, theatres, museums and theme parks. The industry was expected to invest US$7.1 billion in integrated resorts (US$3.5 billion in Marina Bay; US$3.6 billion in Resorts World).
Public debate and criticisms
The plan to build the integrated resorts was subject to considerable debate among Singaporeans even till 2014. Several groups, such as those belonging to the Muslim and Christian communities as well as social workers, openly expressed their disapproval of the casinos. Concerns were raised about the negative social impact of casino gambling, citing worries that the casinos could encourage more gambling and increase the risk of compulsive gambling. Activist groups argued that a casino could also lead to undesirable activities often associated with gambling, including money laundering, loan sharks or even organised crime.
Lee acknowledged the downsides of having integrated resorts and the concerns expressed by the public. He promised that there would be safeguards to limit the social impact of casino gambling. He stated there would be restrictions on the admission of local people into the casinos. Lee announced a steep entrance fee of S$100 per entry or S$2,000 per year (Increased to $150 per entry or $3,000 per year on 4 April 2019) and a system of exclusions for all Singaporeans. In addition, the casinos would not be allowed to extend credit to the local population.
The six-month consultative period gave the opportunity for many sections of the population to voice their opposition to the casinos, including a petition that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. When Lee approved the proposal after such widespread criticism, the opposition said that he had overruled consensus.
The issue of casinos in Singapore was brought up by parliamentary members such as Denise Phua suggesting that the place of gambling in Singapore be reviewed till putting in a total ban on remote gambling after the Remote Gambling Bill was passed.
In 2014, during an investigation of Tiong Bahru Football Club, which operated a slot machine room, public attention was focused on gambling inside registered societies who have slot machines. Access to such slot machines is viewed as a backdoor to gambling addicts who are banned via NCPG as their access to such societies are not banned.
There are two regulatory bodies overseeing gambling in Singapore.
Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore
The CRA is responsible for ensuring that the management and operation of the casinos in Singapore remains free from criminal influence or exploitation. It also ensures that gaming in a casino is conducted honestly, and that casinos do not cause harm to minors, vulnerable persons and society at large.
Gambling Regulatory Unit
Future Gambling Regulatory Authority
On 3 April 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that a new Gambling Regulatory Authority will be formed by 2021 to control all gambling activities in Singapore, as opposed to having many agencies regulating it like the CRA (which only regulates casinos) and the MHA’s Gambling Regulatory Unit. The Singapore Police Force will continue enforcement against illegal gambling activities with the Ministry of Social and Family Development dealing with gambling issues.
At the same time, current gambling laws are under review and will be amended with the intention to regulate activities traditionally not seen as gambling, like physical mystery boxes and online loot boxes.
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The first question was whether to have IRs at all. The answer was yes. Having settled that, the next question was whether to have one or two IRs. We decided on two IRs, because the Bayfront and Sentosa projects complement each other, because having two provides competition and critical mass, and because we believe that two projects will bring more economic benefits, without increasing the social cost commensurately; After weighing the matter carefully, the Cabinet has collectively concluded that we had no choice but to proceed with the IRs. As Prime Minister, I carry the ultimate responsibility for the decision.
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