Singapore to permit social family gambling under proposed amendments to gambling law

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Singapores Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has proposed a series of amendments to gambling laws that would allow social gambling within the family home but place caps on video game mystery boxes and other prize-based rewards.

According to a detailed statement issued Monday, the MHA will amend gambling legislation this year with the goal of ensuring Singapores laws and regulations remain effective in the face of evolving gambling products and business models.

Among the key changes proposed, subject to public feedback, is an exemption on public gambling laws for social games among family and friends which would see such activity become explicitly permitted under legislation.

The MHA said it seeks to take a practical approach towards gambling legislation that only prohibits where there is a risk to law-and-order or potential to cause social harm.

While the exemption would not apply to online social gambling, the MHA said, We recognise that gambling amongst family and friends in homes is socially acceptable amongst many Singaporeans, and poses low law and order concerns. Hence, we are proposing to exempt physical social gambling among family and friends, subject to conditions that safeguard against criminal exploitation.

Social gambling among family and friends will thus be explicitly permitted under legislation. We will take strong enforcement action against syndicates which exploit this exemption to conduct illegal gambling activities.

Also on the MHAs radar are video and arcade games offering potentially lucrative prizes of chance such as smartphone and game consoles that can easily be traded for cash. Noting that the boundaries between gambling and gaming are blurring, the MHA is proposing a SG$100 cap for mystery boxes, arcade games and claw machines that it says will address the inducement effect of high-value prizes without increasing the regulatory burden on operators.

However, operators across all forms of gambling would face greater sanctions than agents or players in instance of illegal activity under proposed changes to penalty structures.

We propose to raise penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate illegal gambling services, to increase deterrence, the MHA said. We are not proposing to raise the penalties for repeat offenders for punters of illegal gambling services for now. We intend to focus our enforcement efforts on illegal gambling agents and operators.

Key to proposed changes would be a standardized definition of gambling across all Singapore legislation with goal of making it technology-neutral to cover both existing and emerging gambling products.

Pointing to the success of its integrated resort model since the 2010 opening of Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, the MHA said, Singapore adopts a strict but practical approach in its regulation of gambling.

It is not practical nor desirable in fact, to disallow all forms of gambling, as this will just drive it underground, and cause more law and order issues. Instead, we license or exempt some gambling activities, with strict safeguards put in place.

Our laws governing gambling seek to maintain law and order, and minimise social harm caused by problem gambling.