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Singapore Gambling Regulator Predictably Says No to Cryptocurrency

Singapore's Gambling Regulatory Authority is eyeing crypto, but isn't looking upon in it favourably

Image: Ted McGrath / Flickr

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Singapore's gambling regulator has no plans to allow the use of cryptocurrency within the industry.

The Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) was established in on 1 August 2022 as a reconstruction of the Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore (CRA). Under the Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore, the statutory board oversees and regulates gambling in the city state.

Last week, GRA general counsel Albert Yeo that crypto is "one of the main things" the regulator is currently looking at.

“I think for the casinos there is no real appetite,” Yeo said at the Regulating the Game conference in Sydney. “It is very volatile in terms of its revenue stream."

There are no plans to allow cryptocurrency use in either of Singapore's casino resorts, namely Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, he said.

Back in 2014, Merit Hotel Nicosia in Cyprus became the first casino in the world to accept Bitcoin payments for gambling, but most crypto gambling occurs online. In Singapore, online gambling is illegal unless licensed or exempted.

Nonetheless, the GRA is resisting from even opening the discussion about either prospect of crypto gambling.

“Internally the idea is to just not allow it to begin with or to even allow it into the door. The moment you start even entertaining [the idea] you know it will be difficult to stop," Yeo explained.

“I’m not sure if there is any legislative framework that would allow us to do it anyway but we are looking into it and seeing where it is creeping in and making sure it doesn’t invade the casinos in Singapore.”

Read more: Singapore Police Finally Probe Terra Luna Founder Do Kwon

The GRA is also concerned with digital asset trading on the blockchain, which could be considered as gambling due to their unregulated, volatile nature.

“We know it is a new space and we are engaging the developers themselves, trying to understand what the products mean,” Yeo said.

Highlighting Axie Infinity as an example, Yeo said the regulator is weighing up whether assets traded in the gaming including NFTs are currencies. “The thing we are grappling with is whether that is money, money equivalent or anything of value," he said.

“Typically if it is in-game we won’t worry about it, but the trouble [with players earning cryptocurrency] is that it is very easy for them to just take it out and put it on exchanges."

Consistent messaging

GRA's messaging is consistent with Singapore's wider crypto-reluctant narrative. Senior Minister and Minister in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam has said Singapore banks had to limit their exposure to cryptocurrencies. Banks are required to hold S$125 of capital against an exposure of S$100 to risky cryptocurrencies.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Davos World Economic Forum held in January, Shanmugaratnam said that there should be “one regulatory system” for both crypto and traditional finance.

“If you have to think about regulating crypto the same way we regulate banks, insurance companies, and so on — for prudential reasons, for financial stability reasons — I think we’ve got to take a step back and ask the basic philosophical question: does that legitimize something that’s inherently purely speculative, and in fact, slightly crazy?” the minister said.

Read more: Singapore Minister Seeks Uniformity for Crypto, TradFi Regulation

Furthermore, the MAS has expressed reluctance for retail investors to be involved in crypto, and has banned crypto companies from directly advertising to retail customers, and several crypto firms that once saw the city-state as leading the way in regulation have since decamped to places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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