Singapore’s plan to establish by 2021 a new body known as the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) to oversee in the city-state all such business including casino resorts, has been described by several knowledgeable commentators as a logical step.
Several of those spoken to by GGRAsia suggested that eventually, Singapore gaming legislation also might be consolidated into a single parliamentary act.
“With changes in the gambling landscape, it is timely that the [Singapore] government is reviewing the national gambling regulatory framework and gambling laws to enhance their effectiveness,” said Tan Kian Hoon, chairman of the National Council On Problem Gambling.
Several legal experts spoken to by GGRAsia concurred. “Singapore has always had a piecemeal approach to regulating gambling. I think this is overdue and centralising regulations into one authority will serve to streamline” the system “and allow for better coordination of enforcement actions,” said Yap Wai Ming, partner at law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP.
Lau Kok Keng, a lawyer at Rajah and Tann LLP, added: “There was an opportunity to do this when first casinos were legalised and the Casino Regulatory Authority was established, and subsequently when remote gambling was legalised. Now that the two regulatory regimes have been settled, the time is right to have the different agencies merged into a single, common gaming regulator.”
Currently on the oversight side, the existing Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) deals with the two land-based casinos, Marina Bay Sands, operated by Marina Bay Sands Pte Ltd, a unit of United States-based Las Vegas Sands Corp; and Resorts World Sentosa, operated by Resorts World at Sentosa Pte Ltd, a unit of Genting Singapore Ltd. The Gambling Regulatory Unit of the Ministry of Home Affairs regulates remote gambling for lotteries and sports betting.
That ministry has indicated that the function of regulating remote gambling will be transferred to the new body the GRA.
The Singapore authorities have said the move to consolidate regulatory functions under the GRA would ensure Singapore was “abreast of technological and global trends,” and could “respond faster to emerging products in particular those that cut across different domains, and take a more holistic approach to gambling policies and issues.”
Nonetheless the practices of the existing CRA have been widely studied by other jurisdictions – including the newly-liberalising Japan – as examples from which to learn. Singapore’s casino regulator has been active in imposing fines on its duopoly operators for any breaches of the Casino Control Act.
Licensing, regulatory continuity
Singapore’s government announced last year it had agreed to the expansion of the city’s two casino resorts. In return for the aggregate investment shared between the duo – SGD9 billion (US$6.4 billion) – the operators would continue to hold a duopoly on casino gambling in the city-state through to 2030, it was announced at the time.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has stated the GRA would – like the current CRA – work with partners such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the National Council On Problem Gambling, while the Singapore Police Force would continue to enforce the laws against illegal gambling activities.
The possibility for a single piece of master legislation to regulate gambling in Singapore was also mooted by the commentators.
Lawyer Mr Yap said: “I think the Common Gaming Houses Act, Private Lotteries Act, Remote Gambling Act and the Casino Regulatory Authority Act will all be rolled into one [piece of] common master legislation.” Subsidiary pieces of legislation could be issued under “various divisions of regulations where required,” he added.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has said the views of stakeholders such as authorised gambling operators, religious organisations, social service agencies, and members of the public would be considered prior to the establishment of the GRA.
Looking at the bigger picture likely after the formation of the GRA, lawyer Mr Lau noted there would be “greater opportunity for sharing of information by the various gambling operators,” and between the industry and the regulator. There would also be the chance for “development of a body of practices and precedents that will provide useful guidance to licensed operators on their compliance with the terms of their licence and the applicable laws and regulations,” he added.
Fellow lawyer Mr Yap suggested there were likely be “tighter controls over gambling activities especially over Internet gambling activities,” which had previously proven to be “more difficult to police” than the land-based kind.
“They will probably enhance Internet surveillance to curb online gaming offerings as these are usually targeted at the younger crowd who are more Internet savvy and probably more prone to being groomed to be online gamblers,” said Mr Yap.
The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed to GGRAsia that Singapore would study the possibility of regulating gaming products known as ‘mystery boxes’ – sometimes referred to by industry commentators as “loot boxes” – that are commonly components of games enjoyed by young people. The ministry says that in Singapore currently such products are considered lotteries and prohibited under present legislation.
The chairman of the National Council On Problem Gambling acknowledged there was a concern over the “vulnerability of young people” regarding mystery boxes. “Overseas studies have found that young people are particularly at risk of being addicted to loot boxes,” said Mr Tan, adding that his body was “stepping up efforts” to educate people about such products.
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