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Report of the Law Reform Committee on Online Gaming and Singapore


Betting and Sweepstakes Duties Act (Cap 22) (“BSDA”)


The BSDA governs the applicable duties on betting and sweepstakes. Other

than that it does not otherwise regulate gambling activities.


Enforceability of gambling debts


Under s 5(1) of the Civil Law Act (Cap 43), all contracts and agreements by

way of gaming or wagering are null and void. The Singapore High Court had decided in Star Cruise Services Ltd v Overseas Union Bank Ltd65 that gaming and wagering debts will not be enforced by the courts in Singapore on the basis that s 5(2) of the Civil Law Act applies irrespective of where the gambling transaction took place, and that no recovery on an underlying gambling contract would be permissible.


However, in the subsequent case of Burswood Nominees Ltd (formerly

Burswood Nominees Pty Ltd) v Liao Eng Kiat,66 following from its opinion in Star City Pty Ltd v Tan Hong Woon,67 the High Court took the opposite view on gambling: that it was not against public policy in Singapore to allow the recovery of money lent for the purposes of gambling abroad as long as the transaction was a genuine loan which was valid and enforceable according to that foreign law. In fact, it would be against public policy for Singaporeans to gamble abroad and return to Singapore to escape from their debts incurred abroad. Thus, s 5 of the Civil Law Act merely negated the enforcement, but not the validity, of a gaming contract. It remains that no action will lie in Singapore to recover a sum of money won on a foreign wagering contract, even if that contract

was valid under its governing law.


In the latest twist, the Court of Appeal in Poh Soon Kiat v Desert Palace Inc

disagreed with this stance.68 In a lengthy assessment of Singapore’s public policy position on the matter, the judges concluded that the views of the High Court in the abovementioned cases to the effect that gambling was no longer contrary to Singapore’s public policy as a rule was not justified either by the evidence before the court on those cases or by the policy considerations encapsulated in s 5(2) of the Civil Law Act. The legal position on enforceability of gaming debts (but not the policy position on gambling generally) is only partly addressed by the exception made for the casinos to be opened and operated at the two Integrated Resorts here. Specifically in relation to these casinos, s 40 of the Casino Control Act provides that ss 5(1) and 5(2)


[1999] 2 SLR(R) 183, on the basis that the then s 6(1) of the Civil Law Act (now s 5(1)) rendered securities given in respect of gambling contracts void for public policy reasons. Prior to this case, gambling debts were held enforceable on the basis that the contract was made in Nevada in the United States and was governed by its laws which legalised gambling. See Vegas Hilton v Khoo Teng Hock Sunny [1996] SGHC 182.


[2004] 2 SLR(R) 436. See also the Court of Appeal decision that affirmed the High Court’s judgment, Liao Eng Kiat v Burswood Nominees Ltd [2004] 4 SLR(R) 690.

67 68

[2002] 1 SLR(R) 306. [2009] SGCA 60 at [81]–[126].


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