August 1, 2022
SINGAPORE – Social gambling in the form of playing mahjong and poker with family and friends at homes will be legalised from Monday (Aug 1).
While not currently illegal, social gambling is not clearly defined in current laws. The new laws will set clear parameters for what is acceptable.
Other changes under the new Gambling Control Act will make it an offence for those under 21 to gamble, save for at Singapore Pool’s outlets where the minimum legal age is 18.
The new rules and a new regulatory authority to oversee the gambling landscape will come into force on Monday, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Sunday (July 31).
The changes come after the laws were passed in Parliament in March, after a debate during which MPs raised concerns about newer forms of gambling brought about by digital technology.
The Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) will take over the functions of the existing Casino Regulatory Authority and be granted more powers to regulate all forms of gambling in Singapore.
It will work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and National Council on Problem Gambling to reduce the social harms of gambling, while the police continue with enforcement.
In a statement on Sunday, MHA said this move allows the Government to “stay ahead of technological and gambling trends and respond more adequately to emerging gambling products”.
Under the Gambling Control Act, it is legal for family and friends to take part in physical social gambling.
While there is no age limit, the gambling has to take place in an individual’s home and cannot be conducted in the course of any business.
Online social gambling, however, is prohibited, with MHA citing practical difficulties of establishing if individuals are sufficiently acquainted with each other for the activity to qualify as social gambling.
It will be a criminal offence for underaged individuals to gamble and enter gambling areas, except where entry checks are not required, such as at Singapore Pools’ physical outlets.
The new laws also mean private establishments will have to get a licence to provide gambling services such as betting and lottery.
The GRA will ensure that licensees are fit and proper to offer gambling services and hold them accountable, said MHA.
The Gambling Control Act also criminalises proxy gambling in casinos and fruit machine rooms. Proxy gambling refers to an individual gambling on behalf of another person, which allows them to circumvent entry checks.
Casinos will be liable to regulatory action, including financial penalties, if they fail to enforce this.
Class licences will be introduced for lower-risk gambling products, such as mystery boxes and business promotion lotteries.
Operators will not be individually licensed, but they must meet the requirements of the class licence before offering their products.
A three-tier penalty structure will kick in across online and physical gambling offences, with the highest penalties imposed on operators, followed by agents and then punters.
Correction note: An earlier version of the article said that social gambling is illegal under current laws. This is inaccurate. While not currently illegal, social gambling is not clearly defined. The new laws will set clear parameters for what is acceptable. We are sorry for the error.