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Singapore has several laws that apply to gambling and poker, although the laws are older and were put into place well before the internet, so there has been quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding whether it is legal or not for Singaporeans to gamble online apart from the official online gambling sites run by the government.
In order to promote tourism, and increase tax revenues, Singapore passed the Casino Control Act in 2006 to allow for 2 casinos to operate in their country, and they were each given a 10-year license, which is set to expire in 2016. (1)
The 2 casinos in Singapore are the Marina Bay Sands and the Resorts World Sentosa. Singapore is a very small country and is really just a large city that functions as a country so everything in Singapore is within a short distance no matter where you are located at, so both these casinos are available to all. (2)
These casinos are targeted toward tourists, and Singapore residents are discouraged from playing at them, although they can gain admittance by paying a 100 Singapore Dollar daily fee, which works out to be about $75.
Foreigners don’t have to pay this fee though, and it’s a pretty hefty one just for the pleasure of walking into one of these casinos, and the rationale behind it may be to exclude lower income Singaporeans, and a fee like this would certainly do that.
There is a fair bit of concern in Singapore over problem gambling, particularly among the lower income segment. Singapore has the third highest per capita PPP GDP in the world, at over $82,000, so this is a very wealthy country, although they still do have a fair number of lower income residents. (3)
Aside from the casinos though, Singapore residents do also have a government run sports betting operation available to them, called Singapore Pools, and while gambling is pretty tightly restricted here, it’s also quite commonplace. (4)
Players can also bet on horse racing through the Singapore Turf Club, and both they and Singapore Pools have both retail outlets, and accept bets over the phone and online through mobile devices.
So in spite of some tight restrictions, there’s still a fair bit of gambling to be had in Singapore, and aside from the two officially sanctioned online betting operations, and the casinos, Singaporeans also partake in the wide assortment of online betting and online poker sites located outside the country.
This is set to change soon though, as the Singapore government has passed a new law outlawing all forms of remote gambling, addressing both the placing of bets by telephone and online, and include banning their residents from playing on these sites, aside from sites that are to be deemed as exempt, which have a number of conditions attached to the exemption.
This new law is set to come into effect in late 2015, and it applies to the government run online betting sites as well, and even they will have to adjust to the conditions, and this hasn’t been fully worked out yet. (5)
Playing Poker in Singapore
Poker is fairly popular in Singapore, and they do have one live poker room, which is hosted at one of their casinos, the Resorts World Sentosa. They have seven live poker tables, all running Texas Hold’em, with stakes ranging from $5/$10 to $100/$200. The other casino does have poker but it is casino style poker only, meaning playing against the house rather than against other players.
It’s not perfectly clear whether or not home poker games are legal in Singapore, but there is said to be quite a few that run in this country, and the thinking is that since it is only illegal to run a public gaming house, and a home game probably would not be considered to be such, then it’s probably OK.
There was a famous case back in 1999 where a prominent businessman was arrested for running a high stakes private Pai Gow game, and ended up being acquitted of the charge in the end by the courts. So this case does serve as a precedent and if someone else got arrested for running a home game in the future, which may not even be likely now, then the courts would likely look to this past ruling and again acquit.
If you are from Singapore and want to play live poker at the casino, you can, but the entrance fee tends to turn the locals off pretty much, and therefore they mostly play at home games or online, at least at the present time while you can still play online without running afoul of the law.
Quite a few Singapore residents travel to Macau to play poker, where it is widely available at the casinos there, and this does promote the game in Singapore as well, as they tend to want to play more poker when they get back from their gambling vacations.
Singapore doesn’t have a lot of poker ambassadors, although one of its favorite sons, Willie Tann, did win a World Series of Poker bracelet and has almost $2 million in winnings on the worldwide live poker tournament scene. (7)
Online Poker in Singapore?
Some have claimed that is currently against the law to play online poker now, but if that were the case, the government would have had no need to pass this new law which is set to outlaw online poker in addition to other forms of gambling unless they take place on an exempt site.
It’s not clear yet whether Singapore will have any exempt sites, they probably will though, but it is unlikely that any of them will offer poker. So online poker players will still have to turn to foreign websites to get their fix, as they do presently. But if there were ANY options it would be these 2 poker rooms:
- Natural8 – Most popular Asian skin on the Good Game Network; allows both casino and sports betting action as well for most major countries in Asia and Europe.
- GGPoker – 35% instant rakeback for new players is given out at GGPoker, one of the Good Game Network’s flagship poker sites.
If the Singapore government thinks that this new law will see online poker in Singapore grind to a halt, they need only look at other countries who have tried this. There’s really only one country that has managed to stamp out online gambling, and that’s North Korea, and the only reason they have been able to do this is that people don’t have online access here in the first place.
So elsewhere, as in Singapore, if the internet exists, people who want to play online poker and partake in other forms of online gambling will simply find a way around anything that governments are willing to throw at them, including the banning of websites and domestic financial transactions to and from offshore gambling sites.
So the law may be soon set to change and while laws like this do cut down on the amount of online poker played in a country, there still is likely to be quite a bit of it still going on in Singapore.
7. Willie Tann