Singapore, officially known as the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island state in Southeast Asia. After the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1963, Singapore legalized several traditional gambling activities. That said, casinos were strictly banned, with the government refusing to revise the ban up until 2004.
In 2005, Singapore decided to lift the ban on casinos but the sector remained strictly regulated, with Singaporeans having limited options to legally bet on casino games. Even though the country has become more accepting of land-based gambling, it refused to loosen its grip on online gambling.
Currently, online gambling is strictly prohibited in Singapore, unless it is provided by operators authorized by the respective local authorities. Individuals found to illegally gamble online face harsh penalties, with local authorities inflicting even heavier penalties to other parties involved in illegal online gambling.
The gambling industry in Singapore is strictly regulated by a few key pieces of legislation. Currently, the lottery in the country is a strict monopoly, with Singapore Pools being the only operator authorized to provide lottery games. Meanwhile, casino gambling is only allowed when it is offered by the so-called integrated resorts (IR).
History of Gambling in Singapore
Back in 1923, when Singapore was still under British rule, gambling was legalized in the country. However, as this led to high numbers of gambling addiction cases, the legal status of gambling lasted only three years, with the activity being criminalized yet again.
Following the ban of gambling, the only forms of similar entertainment that were legal in Singapore were state-run lotteries and horse racing. For decades, these were the legalized forms of gambling, leaving Singaporeans almost no options to enjoy gambling. It was in 2005 that the gambling scene started changing with the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, announcing his cabinet’s plans of launching two casinos in Marina South and Sentosa.
The two casinos were part of the cabinet’s project for integrated resorts (IRs), meaning the casino facilities would operate as a part of associated hotels or malls. Before this type of gambling was introduced, Singaporeans had to board cruise ships that would sail beyond Singapore’s borders to be able to offer casino games. While players had the opportunity to play at the IRs, many would still prefer to gamble on cruise ships as the entry fee of S$100 in IRs seemed too high.
According to the Singaporean government, the reason to launch the casinos was to help the country’s economy which was in competition with neighboring countries that were also considering legalizing casinos. What is more, at the time Singapore decided to launch the two IRs, Malaysia had already opened a casino theme park that was very popular among tourists from Singapore.
In addition to the casinos, the IRs projects included the launch of other facilities such as shops, restaurants, museums, theaters, and theme parks. The IRs were expected to have created about 35,000 jobs and the industry was supposed to invest about US$7.1 billion in the two IRs.
There was quite a backlash from the public as many were worried that the launch of the casinos will bring more issues than benefits. As there were concerns of increasing gambling activity and compulsive gambling, Lee Hsien Loong ensured that there would be measures to keep casino gambling under control. Despite the disapproval of some, the two IR casinos launched in 2010.
Initially, casino visitors had to pay a steep entry fee of S$100 per entry or S$2,000 per year. In 2019, the fees were further increased, with players having to pay S$150 per entry in an IR casino or opt for the annual fee of S$3,000.
After the current gambling laws were amended in 2022, the two casino operators that hold exclusive rights to operate land-based casinos in Singapore had their licenses extended up until 2030. This means that the operators will keep their exclusivity in their regions for quite a few years.
Gambling Regulations in Singapore
Gambling is a regulated industry in Singapore, with a few pieces of legislation regulating land-based and online gambling in the country. In fact, betting, public gaming, private lotteries, and the two brick-and-mortar casinos in Singapore are all governed by different laws.
The different definitions of gambling activities can be found in the respective laws that govern each type of gambling. Under the Common Gaming Houses Act, “gaming” is playing games of chance, or games that have combined skills with chance, and playing for real money or something of monetary value. This piece of legislation does not differentiate “gaming” from “gambling”. Meanwhile, the Casino Control Act describes a “game” as a game depending on chance or a game that is partially dependent on chance but also requires skills.
As for online gambling, one could find several definitions that fall under this category in the Remote Gambling Act. According to this piece of legislation, “gaming” is the act of playing a game of chance for money or something of monetary value.
Online Gambling Regulations in Singapore
While offered in a limited form, land-based gambling has been somewhat legalized in Singapore. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to online gambling, with the country implementing harsh laws forbidding any form of remote gambling. This sector is regulated by the Remote Gambling Act which was enacted in 2014. It establishes the legality of online gambling in Singapore as well as the measures taken to block any illegal activities.
Under the Remote Gambling Act, “online gambling” or “remote gambling” is considered any type of gambling that is accessed through some sort of remote communication. The law considers the internet, phones, radio or TV, or any other technology that allows communication as a means of remote communication.
According to the Remote Gambling Act, “gambling service” is considered the act of organizing a public lottery, supplying tickets for a public lottery, placing or accepting bets, offering a game of chance that is played for money or something of a monetary value, with players wagering money or something of monetary value to play.
The few exceptions to the games of chance regulation are social games or mobile applications which incorporate in-play purchases of tokens and features. The exception is valid only for social games that do not use any facilities to convert in-game tokens and features into real-world merchandise or real money.
Online gambling is legal in Singapore only if there are exempt operators. At the moment, the only operators that have received the right to offer online gambling products are Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club. This leaves almost no legal option for Singaporeans to enjoy online gambling.
The Singaporean government has taken strict measures to regulate online gambling and there are legal consequences for those who are found guilty of gambling online illegally. Individuals who have illegally participated in online gambling may face some payment blocking from the financial institutions they are using. Other penalties that individuals may face if they are found to gamble online include a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
Financial institutions and ISPs that fail to comply with the restrictions imposed by the Remote Gambling Act may also face penalties. As the local government is considering amendments to the gambling laws in Singapore, there are also proposals to make the penalties even harsher. Currently, under the RGA, the highest penalties are inflicted upon operators who are providing illegal online gambling activities for Singaporeans.
Gambling Regulator in Singapore
With the enactments of the Casino Control Act in 2006, the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) was also established. This is the body that governs the casinos in Singapore and makes sure that the gambling services that they offer are conducted in a fair manner. The CRA also regulates the casino industry in the country, implementing safety measures like keeping gambling activity at reasonable rates, limiting the betting amounts Singaporeans spend, offering Responsible Gaming programs, and keeping under control gambling advertising.
While the CRA deals with the regulation of the two IR land-based casinos in Singapore, the authority that is responsible for the regulation of remote gambling and fruit machines in the country is the Gambling Regulatory Unit (CRU). As the gambling industry is evolving at a fast pace, the latest change that the Singaporean government is considering is to merge the CRA and the CRU. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), by joining forces, the two authorities can ensure better gambling regulation.
Gambling Taxes in Singapore
The current tax rate that applies to the gross gaming revenue (GGR) generated by Singaporean casinos is 15%. As for the tax that casinos pay on their premium gaming activity, it currently stands at 5%. That said, these rates are expected to be significantly increased after the Singaporean government passed the Gambling Duties Act at the beginning of 2022.
Following the latest amendments in the laws, the 15% tax on GGR of casinos in Singapore will be increased to 18% for a revenue threshold of S$3.1 billion (US$2.3 billion). If the GGR exceeds that amount, a tax rate of 22% will apply. The changes in the tax rates will also apply to the revenue generated through premium gambling, jumping from 5% to 8% for revenue of up to S$2.4 billion. If the revenue from premium gambling exceeds that amount, a tax rate of 12% will be applied.
While the Gambling Duties Act introduced higher gambling tax rates, it also requires a 10-year moratorium on tax increases in Singapore. This means that the newly implemented taxes are supposed to stay at the same rates up until 1 March 2032.
Gambling is an industry that is strictly regulated in Singapore, with several pieces of legislation governing various forms of gambling. Most gambling activities are illegal in Singapore, with the country imposing harsh penalties on those who do not abide by the law. That said, there have been several exceptions, allowing Singaporeans a few gambling options to enjoy legally.
The Common Gaming Houses Act is the piece of legislation that regulates most gambling activities in Singapore. Lotteries and sports betting are legal, with the proviso they are conducted by operators who have been authorized by the local authorities. As for land-based casinos, currently, Singapore has allowed casino operations only in the form of IRs, with only two operators being granted permission to run brick-and-mortar casinos in the country.
Even though the legal land-based gambling options in Singapore are limited, when it comes to online gambling, things get even stricter. Under the Remote Gambling Act, conducting or participating in online gambling is illegal. Those who are found guilty of online gambling may face harsh penalties, with the law inflicting punishments on players, operators, and ISPs that do not abide by the Remote Gambling Act. Although the government is considering changes to the current legislative framework, the main goal is to put into effect even stricter regulations on the gambling industry in Singapore.