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It would appear that gambling was ‘brought’ to Singapore by Chinese merchants in the 19th century. Gambling, both legal and illegal forms, is very popular in Singapore.
Some forms of gambling, such as lotteries, casino games and horse racing, are legal in Singapore, whereas all forms of sports betting (at bookmakers) and online gambling are illegal. Gambling is legal only if a license or permit has been granted by the authorities – the Betting Control Unit of the Ministry of Finance.
Lotteries in Singapore are allowed under the Lotteries Act 1952. Currently, there are six legal lotteries (all privately owned) in Singapore). Alongside these, there exist several illegal lottery businesses and it was estimated that in 2018 ‘Singapore's illegal lottery business generated about 60 percent more revenue than the six legal operators combined’.
There is only one legal land-based casino in Singapore. This privately owned casino was set up in the 1970s in a very ‘Las Vegas style’ and is open 24 h a day but denies entry to Muslims and those under 21 years of age. This casino offers over 400 types of electronic table games, 3000 slot machines and 30 tables with games such as blackjack, tai sai, roulette and boule.
Horse racing was introduced in Singapore by the British during the 1800s and currently there are three racecourses and betting on horses is legal. All three racecourses are privately owned and are regulated by the Racing Act 1961. Despite being illegal, online gambling has been increasing in popularity over the past few years in Singapore. Betting on badminton and football (mostly English football – the Premier League) is immensely popular.
Technological advancements have made online gambling opportunities more accessible and more affordable. Although illegal, international betting sites accept customers from Singapore and process deposits and withdrawals in Singaporean Dollars (SGD, the Singaporen currency).
There are three major legal frameworks that dictate gambling laws in Singapore: the Betting Act 1953, the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953. The Betting Act 1953 (with several further amendments) is the most important of these.
This Act bans all forms of gambling unless the company has a legal license to operate and covers telecommunications and other means of transmitting bets between customers and betting houses. As per this Act, anyone caught running a betting house or caught in one will be penalized with a SGD200 000 fine and 5 years in jail.
The Common Gaming Houses Act 1953 (with further amendments) is more inclusive than the Betting Act in its coverage of types of gambling. The Common Gaming Houses Act defines gaming as: ‘the playing of any game of chance or of mixed chance and skill for money or money's worth’.
In the 2020 budget plan for Singapore, the Finance Minister announced an increase in punishments for both illegal gamblers and gambling operators. The maximum penalty for those who gamble illegally was increased 20-fold, from SGD5000 to SGD100 000, and a minimum jail sentence of 6 months was introduced.