Nov 29, 2013

    Online gambling sites to be blocked

    A BUSINESSMAN is now going through a divorce because he paid too much attention to his "mistress" - online gambling.

    Pulled into its addictive world over five years, he would bet on soccer, while on the go.

    After work, he would sit in his computer room at home till bedtime placing bets, even through meal times. His wife would place his food in the room and leave.

    His addiction has not only cost him his marriage, but also left him $250,000 in debt.

    His case is just one of many which social workers have seen in recent years. They say it is a growing - and worrying - trend.

    The Government is looking to arrest it. Second Minister of Home Affairs S. Iswaran said yesterday that his ministry will be blocking gambling websites and payments to such operators, and banning online gambling advertisements, possibly by early next year.

    The restriction will also apply to other forms of remote gambling on mobile devices and telephones.

    "Remote gambling is something that is growing, and it probably has a greater level of attraction with a more tech-savvy generation," Mr Iswaran told reporters yesterday.

    Analysts estimate the remote-gambling market here to be worth US$300 million (S$376 million) annually - and growing.

    Easy access, the addictive nature of such games and the possibility that such sites can be used for illegal activities are reasons he gave for such measures.

    There is also the need to protect the young, many of whom already play games that simulate gambling which may desensitise them to the dangers of gambling, he said.

    There are currently no laws specific to online gambling.

    Announcing the measures at the third Singapore symposium on casino regulation and crime, he acknowledged that they may not be "foolproof". But they will impede access and "send a clear signal of the regulatory stance" in Singapore, he said.

    There may, however, be exemptions to the blanket restrictions. The Government will be holding a public consultation from today on the regulatory framework and whether gambling on some sites should be allowed.

    Such an exemption may come after "careful consideration" and there will be tight control on who can access these sites. A total ban, Mr Iswaran said, "may also create problems, with more activities going underground".

    A survey of over 1,000 Internet users, commissioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs, showed that the majority of them are young men, who already gamble through other means.

    Another survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling in 2011 found that online gamblers, when compared to other kinds, had poorer self-control, were more likely to gamble at a higher frequency, for longer, and with more money than planned.

    Social workers told MyPaper that they have seen children as young as 12 gambling online through bookies' accounts.

    Mr Dick Lum, executive director of One Hope Centre, which counsels gambling addicts, said: "Online gambling is a bit more challenging to recover from, in the absence of supervision. It can be done anywhere and anytime."

    Psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow said: "I'm sure that websites will learn how to get round it, and patrons will keep looking for new ways to access them. But some curbs are better than none."