Recently in the news, we have been observing a quiet increase in people being caught for illegal betting and gambling in singapore.
Where exactly does the law draw the line in terms of when a friendly poker game between friends (whether online or in someone’s home) becomes illegal? We hope to leave you with a bit of clarity here, so you don’t knowingly break the law the next time you decide whether or not to join your ‘kaki’ for some mahjong.
Mahjong with Family and Friends
Generally, if you are playing mahjong at home with friends and family, or games involving stakes and odds with money exchanged, it may not be considered illegal gambling. This is seen in the landmark case of Chua Seong Soi v Public Prosecutor  SGHC 195, where our (then) Chief Justice ruled that a game of mahjong between friends is not illegal gambling, but seen as a form of recreation.
Where the line is drawn
However, if the unit is dedicated solely to gambling (as defined under Section 2 of the Common Gaming Houses Act: any place kept or used for gaming to which the public or any class of the public has or may have access, and any place kept for habitual gaming), it will be in violation of the act. The owner or operator of such a ‘gaming house’ can be fined between S$5,000 and S$50,000, and jailed for up to 3 years.
If you are found to be participating in such a ‘gaming house’, you can be fined up to S$5,000 or jailed up to 6 months.
In addition to this, if you are found guilty of this offence during this period between 7 April 2020 and 1 June 2020, you will also be in violation of Section 6 of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and may be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed for up to 6 months or both!
If you are charged or under investigation for such offences, you should consult a criminal defence lawyer immediately to know your legal rights and explore the possible options moving forward. Our team of experienced criminal defence lawyers at Gloria James-Civetta & Co will guide and navigate you through these complex legal situations.
Possible reasons for increased offences
It is no coincidence that the rates of recent ‘den busts’ making the news have significantly increased. Due to Circuit Breaker measures, which have been introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a lot more people are stuck at home with nothing much to do.
Worse, online gambling provides an avenue for gamblers who will always find a way to gamble, especially given the closure of Singapore Pools during this period.
We also note that Circuit Breaker has affected innocent citizens in other ways, for example, those who have lost their jobs or income due to lay-offs and companies contracting. For these people, unfortunately, gambling becomes a way to earn their livelihood. In these situations, gambling is really not the answer.
Rather, these people could explore their options in terms of the various government subsidies available to them. They are also urged to approach the National Council on Problem Gambling for additional support if theirs is indeed a serious addiction.