Betting in Singapore

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Asia’s “Garden City” has been an independent nation since its split with Malaysia in 1965. But gambling was part of the local scene even before that time, as British colonialists had introduced betting on cricket, football, rugby, lotteries and horse racing. As the influential Business Times has stated, “Gambling is very much a way of life and a form of entertainment in Singapore.”

The Singapore Government, however, has had a love-hate relationship with gambling activities for more than half a century. In 1960, the Betting Act was passed to suppress illegal common betting-houses, betting in public places and bookmaking. A year later, the Common Gaming Houses Act was enacted to suppress illegal common gaming houses, public gaming and public lotteries.

Then, in 1968, a state monopoly was formed—the Singapore Pools—to benefit the community by offering legal lotto games, Toto and sweepstakes—the so-called Singapore Sweep. It was not until 1999, however, that permission was granted for football betting, and wagering on Formula One racing remained prohibited until 2008.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Turf Club, founded in 1842 as the Singapore Sporting Club, continued to organise thoroughbred horse races on a 2,000-metre sand track at Kranji. The Club was eventually granted the right to provide totalisator (pari-mutuel betting) services under the authority of the nation’s Tote Board.

For several decades, a single state-operated casino was in operation at Changi International Airport to gain revenues from travelers passing through. However, the decision to proceed with licensed casinos as a major tourist attraction was not taken until 2005-06, when the Singapore Parliament enacted the Casino Control Act.

Today, two full-scale casinos operate under the Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore—the Marina Bay Sands situated on the coast and Resorts World on Sentosa Island. Restrictions still apply to local residents who wish to gamble at either location. Nonetheless, together they are expected to bring in revenue of $6.4 billion for 2011, indicating that cash is pouring in from well beyond the island nation’s borders.

To date, there are no private sportsbooks operating within the country. However, Singapore Pools accepts wagers on English Premier League football and offers markets for the top leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan and even Singapore. Betting on motor sports is also possible. And bets on domestic and international horse races can be placed by phone, online or via a mobile betting application.

Currently, Singapore has no law forbidding, approving, licensing or even specifically mentioning mobile or online sportsbooks or other forms of Internet gambling. As a result, some 465 sports betting web sites welcome wagers placed by Singapore residents, including ladbrokes, bet365, paddy Power, unibet, gamebookers, expekt and betfred, to name just a few.

Visa Credit has some 2,070 Singapore-friendly affiliated gaming sites, while MasterCard counts 1,873 such venues. English is the primary language and the U.S. Dollar is the main currency of exchange. Options for depositing and withdrawing funds in Singapore Dollars include such eWallets as NETeller and Moneybookers.

With only about four million residents, Singapore is much less concerned about revenues being lost to outside bookmakers than it is about attracting money from abroad. Its two casinos are seen as complements to the city-state’s lifeblood industry—high finance. That’s why it seems likely that the next move here will be to begin offering online gambling options to foreign players, while limiting domestic players under the same strict rules that govern the two casino-resorts.