When Can You Legally Gamble (In Public or Online) in Singapore?
What Constitutes Gambling?
Under the Remote Gambling Act (RGA), “gambling” is broadly defined to include betting, gaming, and participating in a lottery.
The RGA defines “betting” to include the staking of money or money’s worth on the outcome of a horse-race or sporting event.
Under the Common Gaming Houses Act (CGHA), “gaming” refers to any game involving an element of chance, or of mixed chance and skill, where players stand to gain money or money’s worth of rewards.
Games which do not involve money (e.g. a simple game of mahjong between friends with no cash involved) do not fall under the CGHA.
The CGHA also regulates public lotteries, which is defined as a lottery to which the public or any class of the public has or may have access. A “lottery” is defined as any game, scheme or competition whereby money or money’s worth is distributed in a manner dependent on chance, whether or not such a lottery is held or managed within or outside Singapore.
When is it Legal to Gamble in Singapore?
Gaming in a “common gaming house” is an offence under the CGHA. A “common gaming house” includes any place kept or used for gaming, habitual gaming and public lottery, whether or not the public has access to it.
Thus, whether the gambling behaviour in question crosses the line into an illegal act depends on whether the gambling venue is kept as a common gaming house, or a place to be used for gaming.
While the CGHA does not provide a definition for private gambling, it is generally considered as gambling in a place to which the public may not have access (e.g. at home).
Private gambling constitutes an offence if the place where such gambling is carried out is kept specifically for the purpose of habitual gaming as a common gaming house.
Anyone found guilty of gaming in a common gaming house will be liable for a fine up to $5,000, or to imprisonment for a term up to 6 months, or to both.
Gambling in public
Gambling in public refers to gambling in a place to which the public may have access and includes any place in which 10 or more persons are employed.
It is illegal to gamble in any public place. For example, gambling at a funeral held in a void deck may be illegal as a void deck is a public place.
However, if the funeral is held in a private place (e.g. rented space for events) to which the public does not have access, gambling there may be illegal as long as the private place in question does not constitute a common gaming house (as mentioned above).
Anyone found guilty of gaming in a public place will be liable for a fine up to $5,000, or to imprisonment for a term up to 6 months, or to both. Their gaming instruments may also be seized and forfeited.
Placing bets with bookmakers
Bookmakers’ activities are regulated under the Betting Act. Under the Betting Act, a bookmaker is any person who receives or negotiates bets or wagers on a cash or credit basis in exchange for money or money’s worth.
Any person who bets or wagers with a private bookmaker (also known as a “bookie”) in any place or by any means shall be guilty of an offence. Offenders will be liable for a fine up to $5,000, or to imprisonment for a term up to 6 months, or to both.
On the other hand, it will not be illegal to bet with exempted bookmakers such as Singapore Pools, Tote Board and the licensed casinos here.
Playing with jackpot machines
As jackpot gambling falls under the definition of “gaming” in the CGHA, it is illegal to participate in jackpot gambling in a common gaming house or in public unless the jackpot machine is located in a club which is permitted to operate the machine.
Is there a Minimum Age to Gamble Legally in Singapore?
The minimum age to gamble legally in Singapore varies according to the venue of the gambling activity. There is no one minimum age that applies to all gambling activities.
Generally, you have to be at least 18 years of age to gamble in Singapore. For example, Singapore Pools only allows individuals aged 18 and above to buy 4D or TOTO tickets, or placing horse racing bets. To have an account with Singapore Pools, you need to be at least 21 years old.
Under the Casino Control Act, you have to be at least 21 years of age before you can legally gamble in casinos. Minors found guilty of faking their age to gain entry to the casinos will be liable for a fine up to $1,000.
Online Gambling under the Remote Gaming Act
What is online gambling?
Under the RGA, “online gambling”, also known as “remote gambling”, is defined as gambling in which players participate through remote communication.
Such remote communication includes communication through the Internet, telephone, television or radio, or any other kind of electronic or other technology which facilitates communication.
Legality of online gambling
Section 8 of the RGA states that anyone who gambles through remote communication and uses a remote gambling service (explained below) shall be guilty of an offence.
It does not matter whether the gambling was done by the individual only, or together with any other person, or whether the individual directly or indirectly participated in the gambling.
What is a gambling service?
A “gambling service” is defined to include a service for the:
- Conduct of a public lottery;
- Supply of public lottery tickets;
- Placing, making or accepting of bets; or
- Conduct of game of chance where the game is played for money, or money’s worth, and customers give money, or money’s worth, to play the game.
Point (4) however, does not apply to social games and mobile applications which allow players to purchase tokens or game-enhancement features. This is as long as these games do not provide facilities to convert these tokens or features to money, or to real-world merchandise which can be exchanged for money.
When is online gambling legal?
Online gambling is legal if it is done through an exempt operator. Currently, only Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club have been granted certificates of exemption under the RGA. However, other operators may be granted certificates of exemption in the future.
In the event of doubt, it would be best to obtain more information as to the exemption status of operators by lodging an inquiry with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Consequences of illegal online gambling
If you have participated in unlawful remote gambling activity, a financial institution provider may be issued with a payment blocking order that may:
- Prevent it from accepting credit extended to you;
- Prevent it from accepting any cheque, bank draft or similar instrument which is drawn by or issued to you;
- Prevent it from accepting any funds transfer to or from you; or
- Cause it to block payments or prohibit transactions where these use merchant codes customarily associated with gambling transactions.
You can also be arrested without a warrant.
If you are found guilty of unlawful remote gambling under the RGA, you will be liable for pay a fine up to $5,000, or to imprisonment for a term up to 6 months, or to both.
The sentencing framework for first-time offenders under section 8 of the RGA was considered in the case of Lau Jian Bang v PP.
In that case, the court stated that first-time offenders under section 8 of the RGA will generally be fined at least $1,000 instead of receiving an imprisonment term.
The exact amount of the fine is pegged to the amount of the offender’s bets. Factors which could increase the amount of the fine would include steps taken to conceal one’s illegal bets and lack of remorse. An offender who pleads guilty in a timely manner or cooperates with the authorities may face a smaller fine.
An imprisonment term will generally only be imposed in cases involving repeat offenders.
Prohibition against inviting persons under 21 to gamble online
Under section 13 of the RGA, it is an offence to invite, permit, or cause a person under 21 years of age to gamble online in Singapore.
This includes actions such as sending the person an advertisement about an online gambling service or highlighting information about online gambling to that person with a view of encouraging him or her to gamble online.
Anybody found guilty of inviting a person under 21 years of age to gamble remotely shall be liable for pay a fine of at least $20,000 and up to $300,000, or to imprisonment for a term up to 6 years, or to both. This is unless you can prove that you took all reasonable steps to determine the individual’s age and that you reasonably believed that the individual was at least 21 years of age.
Tips on Gambling Legally in Singapore
Gamble in a private place with trusted friends
In order to avoid being charged for illegal gambling, you must not gamble in a public place, or a common gaming house where habitual gaming takes place.
It is also best to gamble only with a trusted group of friends and refrain from adding others to this group. This is because inviting strangers to gamble may be construed as gambling in a place to which the public may have access, constituting the offence of gambling in a “public place”.
Avoid gambling with seasoned gamblers as they may attract unwanted attention from the authorities. Seasoned gamblers may be characterised as those who are willing to spend large sums of money when gambling, or those who have outstanding debts due to their gambling habits.
Place small bets
You should cap your bets at a small amount. This this will help authorities to understand that you are engaging in a social activity with friends, instead of operating a common gaming house.
Bet only with exempted betting operators
Avoid private bookies, and place bets only with exempt betting operators. You should also not attempt to flout the minimum age requirement for betting with exempt operators.
Steps to Take If You Have Been Charged with a Gambling Offence
If you have been charged with a gambling offence, you may want to consider hiring a criminal lawyer to represent you in court.
The lawyer may assist you in seeking acquittal in the event that you did not in fact commit the offence in question.
For example, say that you have been found playing mahjong in public. Under the law, you will be presumed to be gaming in public for money or money’s worth, which is an offence.
However if there was actually no money involved in your mahjong session, a lawyer can highlight this to try and help acquit you of the offence.
Alternatively, the lawyer may assist you by establishing a defence or, if you are convicted of the offence, by seeking a lesser penalty for it.
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