Current gambling laws lack bite

PETALING JAYA: The authorities need more legal muscles to curb the growing illegal gambling and bookmaking menace in the country.

Lawyer R. Rishi said the Common Gaming Houses Act, which was enacted in 1953, needed to be revised to keep up with the times such as regulating online gambling.

“The government must be serious to look into this as current technology allows users to place bets from their cellphones easily, ” Rishi said.

He added that even though there were the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2001 (AMLA) and Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (POCA), these laws were not tailored to deal with illegal gambling and more so if they were conducted in cyberspace, beyond national borders.

Therefore, there must be local laws to govern Internet gambling and if stiff penalties are introduced, can deter illegal gambling.

Currently, the penalty for illegal gambling under the Common Gaming Houses Act is a fine of up to RM5,000, up to six months’ jail, or both, while operators can be fined up to RM50,000, jailed up to three years, or both.

Rishi said the government needed to strengthen the law to tackle these illegal operators as well as engage with legal gaming operators to better understand the operating landscape.

While legal amendments were a quick fix, he said a new law had to be put in place for long-term enforcement measures.

Aside from the Common Gaming Houses Act, there are also the Lotteries Act 1952, Betting Act 1953 and Pool Betting Act 1967 to govern the gaming industry.

However, most of these laws are old while fines and jail sentences prescribed are considered low or lenient in the current times.

“As such, syndicates explore these loopholes and take advantage of the legislation to conduct betting and gaming activities.

“If they are caught, they will be more than willing to settle the small fine, considering the big profits from these illegal operations, ” said Rishi.

It is understood that representatives from the Finance Ministry, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, Bank Negara Malaysia and police have sat down since 2017 to discuss the framework for regulatory overhaul but work on the proposal has been put on the backburner.

“Making amendments and introduction of a new law will not only control the illegal activities but it can indirectly boost tax revenue from the legal operators.

“The government should also consider allowing Number Forecast Operators to conduct online betting, a move that can reduce the operation of illegal 4D activities, and bring tax revenue to the government, ” he said, adding that the government needed something similar to Singapore’s Remote Gambling Act to curb online gambling.

“This law should not only cover online gambling, either legal or illegal, but also deal with those who have no permission to operate locally.”

He said under the Singaporean law, banks could bar transactions or payments to online gambling operators while those associated with the business, including those managing operations as a third party, would also face consequences.

Under the Singaporean law, those caught can be heavily fined, with amounts ranging from S$20,000 (RM60,000) to S$500,000 (RM1.5mil), and jail terms of up to seven years.

Last week, the MP of Sungai Siput, S. Kesavan, said he would raise the issue of stiffer laws against illegal gambling and bookmaking in the coming Parliament meeting to push the government to amend the outdated legislation.

The move, he said, is a follow-up to the Budget 2019 announcement which proposed a higher minimum penalty of RM100,000 for those partaking in illegal gambling, with a minimum mandatory jail sentence of six months.

It also proposed a minimum fine of RM1mil and a 12-month minimum jail sentence for illegal operators.

The Star reported on Oct 21 that illegal 4D betting syndicates, which have grown larger and more sophisticated over the last decade, have taken a big chunk of the legitimate Number Forecast Operators’ business, causing the government to lose some RM3bil in tax revenue annually.

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