MHA proposes amendments to laws on online social gambling

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has opened the floor to the public regarding amendments to the gambling legislation later this year. This follows a statement where MHA announced the establishment of a new gambling regulatory authority, released on 3 April earlier this year. 

According to the ministry, it is neither “practical nor desirable to disallow all forms of gambling, as this will just drive it underground, and cause more law and order issues”. Therefore, the MHA licenses or exempts some gambling activities, with strict safeguards put in place. This has allowed Singapore’s gambling-related crime rates to remain low, said the ministry. 

To ensure that this continues, the MHA is addressing two emerging trends in the gambling landscape, namely advancements in technology and the blurred boundaries between gambling and gaming.

In light of this, MHA proposes the following four areas of amendments:

  1. Definition of gambling
  2. Social gambling
  3. Games with gambling elements
  4. Penalties across gambling legislation

MHA plans to redefine and consolidate the definition of gambling to make it more technology-neutral such that it will cover existing and emerging gambling products. The current definition of gambling differs across different pieces of legislation, as these were enacted at different points of time and for different gambling products, said the ministry.

Meanwhile, it recognises that gambling amongst family and friends in homes is socially acceptable amongst many Singaporeans, and poses low law and order concerns. Provided it fulfils certain conditions, physical social gambling among family and friends will be exempted.

Citing the blurred boundaries between gambling and gaming, MHA proposes that games with gambling elements will be subjected to the following regulations: 

  • Introducing a price cap of SG$100 for mystery boxes, arcade games and claw machines.
  • introducing conditions to ensure that transferable virtual items in online games are retained in the context of gameplay and entertainment, as intended by game developers
  • allowing in-game monetisation facilities for free-to-play games where players do not have to pay to play or receive virtual prizes, subject to conditions similar to those imposed on currently-exempted business promotion lucky draws (which will remain exempted in the new legislation). 

MHA is also proposing to rationalise penalties across various gambling legislation. Under the Remote Gambling Act, there is a three-tier penalty structure for illegal online gambling, with the highest penalties imposed on operators who have the highest culpability, followed by agents and punters.

The ministry also added that penalties for repeat offenders who facilitate or operate illegal gambling services should be raised in the future to increase deterrence. 

This announcement to finetune gambling laws follows hot on the heels of the ministry of law’s proposal of repealing of the current Copyright Act. The proposed amendments under the new Copyright Bill aims to strengthen the copyright laws in Singapore in an attempt to "stay abreast of changes in how content is created, distributed, and used”. The focus of the proposal seeks to make the law more accessible by simplifying the language and key features of the new bill include introducing new rights and remedies for creators, as well as creating new exceptions to copyright owners’ rights (known as permitted uses).

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