A debate is underway in the small Asian country of Singapore on whether or not to allow two lottery operators to continue their plans to offer online betting, the legal definition of which is knowingly placing, receiving, or transmitting a bet or wager that uses, at least in part, the internet (“Internet Gambling…,” 2016). “Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club (STC) are preparing to launch their online betting services…” (Chow & Lin, 2016). The local population is also split whether to allow these companies to continue with their plans to offer online betting, as some would welcome the convenience it would provide, while others are hesitant of the social harm it would do. The people of Singapore have been weighing the issue, with both sides offering their pros and cons of the situation, each backed up by relevant experts. Fortunately for the people of Singapore, this is not a new issue, as other countries have been faced with similar dilemmas. In particular, this paper will look at how the two countries of Norway and Hong Kong have handled online betting. The analysis of these countries will show that the negatives outweigh the positives and that Singapore should learn from the mistakes of others.
The debate focuses on a few core ideas. On the pro side is the obvious increased economic activity, as it would create jobs and increase the tax base. “Its influence on the economy is equally astounding, comprising a great portion of the revenue streams coming through the online space on a global scale” (“The Economic Effects…,” 2015). The economic benefits of online betting would undeniably boost the economy for Singapore and allow the country to take part in an ever growing and lucrative industry. Furthermore, some claim that this service already exists but that it is forced to exist underground, as it is currently illegal. Allowing it to operate legitimately would make it safer for consumers by allowing it to be regulated and making it easier for those with addiction problems to seek help. It would also allow regulators to stop the proliferation of fake websites, thus protecting consumers. However, some disagree. “While some consumers welcome the convenience of such services, they noted that this may spark a rise in betting addiction problems, especially among the young” (Huiwen, 2016). Young people are particularly vulnerable to online betting, and due to devices such as smart phones parents may not be able to adequately supervise their online activities or the amount that they play. Experts also point towards the tendency for these sights to cause some people to get into unmanageable amounts of debt. For some betting addiction and a poor lack of money management could ruin them financially, which can be far worse online. Looking at other countries shows that these negatives carry more weight than the opposing side. Two examples in particular will help elucidate the debate.
In Hong Kong, for example, according to a government report online casinos attract underage people at a rate of about 5%, and in some cases are directly marketed to them. “Internet shuffling was always attractive to youngsters; many online casinos were in fact targeted at the underage” (“Report on…,” 2002, p. 57). This report continues by pointing out the alarming rates of betting addiction which leads to heavily increased debt, insomnia, divorce, and a host of mental disorders, all of which become much more prevalent with online betting. The list continues on and is in fact much too long to list here (“Report on…,” 2002, p. 7). There is good reason to believe that young people in Singapore are at the same risk as they are in Hong Kong. In Norway, the situation is similar with some important differences that need to be pointed out. In recent years, Norway has seen a boost in online betting in the form of individual terminals that allow online betting.
Norway allows their people to make bets online but it is much more regulated than most countries. “The new online terminals are subject to very strict regulations in terms of maximum limits money spent, and with an option for gamblers to set even stricter limits for themselves” (Lund, n.d.). Some of these regulations include familiar ones such as age restrictions to prevent children from playing but they have also included some creative ones, such as allowing payment only through a card that gets registered and monitored by authorities, as to prevent some from betting too much. Another one is that they give the player an option to cut themselves off and if the player regrets it and tries to play again then the machine will bar the player for 100 days. Regulations such as these might help mitigate similar problems in Singapore. However, these regulations have not been able to stop the problems generally associated with online betting. “The most common reason for this control offered by the government is that heave restrictions help to combat the problem of betting addiction, which is found particularly in the country’s more rural areas” (“Online Gambling…,” 2017). Even with these regulations, Norway suffers the same problems, as would Singapore. From the above it is rather clear that the cost of allowing online betting is not worth the benefits.
Overall, it would not be in Singapore’s best interest to allow these two lottery organizations to continue offering online betting. While it needs to be acknowledged that there will be some benefits, these benefits are not enough. According to a recent article in the New York Times, a study was performed by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission that confirms this. “What we have learned is that the social costs of betting outweigh the benefits by a factor of about 3 to 1” (Grinols, 2010). Making this available online might easily inflate these statistics. If Singapore allowed online betting, they would certainly receive an economic boost as well as protect consumers, but the damage to society would be too great, as is seen in Norway and in Hong Kong, both which saw an uptick in the rates of betting addiction and the associated mental health and financial problems, including among children. These examples also show that no matter the amount of regulation, the problems from online betting still persist. The country’s people, particularly its children, are too important to allow this measure to continue.