1 Mr Speaker Sir, on behalf of the Minister for Social and Family Development, I thank Members for their views and support for the social safeguards in the Gambling Control Bill. I also share their concerns on the harm of gambling as it often goes beyond the individuals and affects families, community and society.
2 The international gambling landscape is constantly changing, and gambling operators are always innovating and looking to new technology and gaming experiences to attract punters. Hence, MSF supports MHA’s amendments to the gambling legislation. It is critical to update Singapore’s laws for gambling so that they remain relevant as the gambling landscape evolves.
I. Enhancing Social Safeguards For Gambling
3 The Gambling Control Bill strengthens the Government’s ability to prevent and deal with problem gambling. Even though our social safeguards are among the most stringent in the world and have generally worked well, there are also new risks that we are aware of. For instance, more people are gambling online, which poses relatively higher risks, given its accessibility round the clock.
4 The changes introduced in the Gambling Control Bill will further strengthen safeguards for vulnerable groups, such as young persons and the financially vulnerable. Research shows that young persons are likely to be more vulnerable to problem gambling. The provisions that MOS Desmond Tan highlighted, relating to gambling by or with under-aged individuals, in contravention of the minimum age requirements, will prevent early exposure to and normalisation of gambling amongst youth.
5 In the Bill, the minimum age for legal gambling is set at 21 years old, one of the highest internationally. This applies to casinos, fruit machine gambling and online gambling with Singapore Pools. Mr Gerald Giam asked if the minimum gambling age can be harmonised to 21 years old. Currently, the exception is for Singapore Pools physical outlets, which have a minimum age of 18, as other safeguards, such as limited opening hours, are in place to create a break in play. We do not plan to harmonise the minimum age at this point, but nonetheless, MSF recognises that it is important to reduce early exposure to gambling. MSF will work closely with MHA and Gambling Regulatory Authority to constantly review our social safeguards to minimise the risks of problem gambling and gambling-related social harms.
Exclusion regime for fruit machine rooms and Singapore Pools online gambling
6 The Gambling Control Bill will extend the National Council on Problem Gambling’s exclusion regime and Exclusion by Law beyond the casinos, to fruit machine rooms and Singapore Pools’ online gambling platform.
7 Currently, Singapore Pools and fruit machine room operators are already required, under their exemption and permit conditions, to disallow individuals with a third-party exclusion order, family exclusion order or under Exclusion by Law, from online gambling and fruit machine rooms. These regulatory conditions have been in place since 2016 for Singapore Pools and 2017 for fruit machine rooms.
8 The extension of the exclusion regime formalises this. In addition, family members will be able to apply to NCPG for a Family Exclusion Order, if their family member has a gambling problem from fruit machine room gambling or online gambling with Singapore Pools. A Family Exclusion Order will exclude the individual from fruit machine rooms, online gambling with Singapore Pools, and the casinos.
II. Strengthening Upstream Preventive Efforts
9 MSF takes an upstream approach to address social concerns. Addressing problem gambling is no different. Thus, we are expanding the coverage of the Exclusion by Law regime, which complements the Exclusion and Visit Limit regime administered by the National Council on Problem Gambling. While this change will be effected through amendments to subsidiary legislation under the Casino Control Act, rather than the Gambling Control Bill, allow me to share my Ministry’s plans.
10 The Exclusion by Law automatically bars financially vulnerable individuals from most gambling venues. Exclusion by Law is not new. Currently, undischarged bankrupts, those receiving ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term and Long-Term assistance, those on legal aid and tenants of the HDB Public Rental Scheme with 6 or more months of rental arrears are already excluded from the casinos, fruit machine rooms and Singapore Pools online gambling.
11 To strengthen upstream protection for public rental tenants and occupiers, we are removing the need to accumulate 6 months of rental arrears before they are excluded by law. We do not want to wait until such a point before we take preventive action against problem gambling.
12 Let me be clear. Most individuals residing in public rental housing do not visit the casinos, fruit machine rooms or have an online gambling account with Singapore Pools, so this change will not impact them. However, a small fraction of about 4,000 individuals, residing in public rental housing, who engage in at least one of these gambling activities will be impacted.
13 For example, in 2021, NCPG came across a case of Mr T, who is married and in his 60s, resides in a 2-room rental flat, who visited local casinos twice a month. He had a monthly income of less than $1,500 and owed banks and licensed moneylenders approximately $100,000. As he was assessed to be at high risk due to his income and high unsecured debts, he was imposed with a Third Party Exclusion Order.
14 The NCPG has given feedback to the Government, on the cases they see, individuals who reside in rental housing and can ill afford to gamble, and are affected by problem gambling. We have thus taken this feedback on board. This change will help prevent such situations from happening, and to protect individuals like Mr T and his loved ones.
15 I would like to thank Mr Louis Ng for his question. Mr Ng asked how individuals placed on Exclusion by Law will be informed of their exclusion status. For bankruptcy applications through the Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office either by the individual him or herself or by a creditor, the individual will receive a letter which states that he or she will be excluded if the bankruptcy order is confirmed. When individuals apply for ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance or Comcare Long-Term Assistance or legal aid, they are notified at the point of application that they will be excluded if their application is successful. When their application is approved, they will be informed of this condition again.
16 For the extension of Exclusion by Law to all public rental tenants and occupiers, in June later this year, all public rental households will receive a letter from NCPG, together with an infographic, to inform them of this change. For new households who sign the public rental tenancy agreement with HDB, the HDB officer will also provide them the infographic on Exclusion by Law so that they are aware.
17 Gambling operators are also required to screen their patrons for exclusion status before allowing them to enter or use their gambling services. This will minimise unwitting violations of the law.
III. Minimising Harm Through Responsible Gambling Practices By Operators
18 Mitigating the harm of gambling requires the combined efforts of individuals and families, the community, the Government, and gambling operators. The Gambling Control Bill will give powers to the Gambling Regulatory Authority to set conditions or standards in relation to responsible gambling, to minimise the risk of problem gambling for those who choose to gamble.
19 Today, the casino operators are obligated under the Casino Control Act regulations to put in place responsible gambling measures to minimize the potential harm of gambling. These include assisting patrons who display signs of problem gambling, and providing patron education on responsible gambling behaviours, such as setting a budget or time limit on their gambling.
20 Similarly, Singapore Pools is required to implement RG measures such as setting monthly betting limits, providing its online account holders a monthly win-loss summary, providing a voluntary self-assessment tool and messages to nudge account holders towards safer betting. We are encouraged that a significant proportion of Singapore Pools account holders know about and make use of these tools to manage their gambling behaviour. In fact, a majority have found these measures useful in promoting self-regulated play.
21 The majority of fruit machine rooms operators have voluntarily implemented responsible gambling measures since 2020. We would like to acknowledge their commitment towards responsible gambling and their partnership with MSF.
22 To emphasise the importance of responsible gambling and to ensure a baseline standard of responsible gambling across fruit machine rooms, MSF and the new Gambling Regulatory Authority will be making responsible gambling requirements mandatory. These requirements include educating patrons on problem gambling and how to gamble responsibly, informing patrons of the NCPG helpline number and help services, and ensuring fruit machine room staff are trained to assist patrons who display signs of problem gambling.
23 This change complements the Government’s tightening of the fruit machine room regime over the years, which resulted in the number of fruit machine rooms reducing by about 25%, from 61 in 2017 to 46 in 2021.
IV. MSF’S Continual Efforts To Mitigate Gambling Harm
24 Mr Gerald Giam asked if there will be greater educational efforts to discourage Singaporeans, particularly young people from participating in gambling activities and delaying their first gambling experience. The NCPG conducts public education programmes and campaigns on problem gambling awareness throughout the year to ensure that Singaporeans understand the risk of gambling. One of the target audience is youth. NCPG engages youths through public education campaigns conducted in schools and online to encourage them not to start gambling.
25 To Mr Gerald Giam's query on teaching students about the ills of loot boxes, the NCPG has stepped up efforts to educate youth, parents, educators, and the public on the potential connection between loot boxes and gambling. For example, NCPG partnered Mediacorp in 2021 to produce a Channel NewsAsia Insider documentary episode to raise awareness among parents, educators and youth on loot boxes. Parents can monitor their children's online gaming behaviours to manage the risk of gambling addiction posed by loot boxes in games, for example to be aware of the type of games their children play, set boundaries on the time spent on gaming, and delink credit card from mobile games where possible.
26 NCPG also creates awareness of the issue via social media posts and advertisements in popular youth digital platforms like Spotify. NCPG also partners Fei Yue Community Services to conduct school talks and workshops on gambling elements in games. The intent really is to educate our young ones to be able to identify the possible gambling elements in online games, protect themselves when gaming and to seek help if necessary. We will explore how we can strengthen our collaboration with MOE on educating our young ones on loot boxes.
27 Mr Speaker Sir, in conclusion, these proposals are part of Government’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the harm of problem gambling. MSF will continue to work with the NCPG to provide preventive education targeting youths and ensure accessibility of help services to the population-at-large.
28 MSF will also continue to partner MHA and the Gambling Regulatory Authority to monitor the gambling situation in Singapore and study gambling trends to ensure that our safeguards remain relevant.
29 I urge Members to support the Bill.