SINGAPORE: It would be better for governments to license and regulate the online gambling industry than to turn a blind eye to the growing number of online punters worldwide, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report released on Wednesday argued.
This, especially as the global financial crisis strains public sector finances, it said.
"With governments now facing severe fiscal constraints and eager to replenish their coffers, their attention has been caught by the potential of legalised and licensed online gaming services as a valuable source of tax revenues," it said.
"There is also a strong argument that, since consumers will engage in illegal online gaming anyway, it is better to license and tax it than to allow the revenues to go to unlicensed operators."
There are no studies on how big the online gaming community here is, but Singapore is one of the fastest growing casino gaming markets in the Asia-Pacific region, which is tipped to overtake the United States in 2013 to become the world's largest region for casino gaming.
Gaming revenue in Asia-Pacific, the PwC report projected, will grow from US$34.3 billion (S$43.96 billion) last year to US$79.3 billion in 2015. It also estimated that revenues from the two integrated resorts here will jump from US$4.4 billion this year to US$7.2 billion in 2015.
Online gambling is outlawed in Singapore but Singapore Pools allows punters to place lottery or sports bets through the phone using pre-paid accounts.
Noting that there is "tremendous growth in online gaming, especially in poker", gaming analyst Jonathan Galaviz felt that governments in the region should certainly seize the growth opportunities.
"It's probably an appropriate time for governments to, at the minimum, seriously research the issue and get up to speed on the topic for thoughtful policy discussions," said the chief economist of Galaviz & Co, a consulting firm for casinos.
But other gaming analysts Today spoke to were against such a policy decision, saying legalising online gambling will likely cause a significant social impact.
Said Mr Felix Ling, a senior partner at casino consultant Platform Asia Management Services: "Once you allow online gambling, you are indirectly encouraging more people to flock there.
"Yes, there are some people who are already gambling on the Internet anyway, but how many are there? If you legitimise online gambling, the number of problem gamblers will shoot up and you can't even track the problem or control it."
Agreeing, Dr Derek da Cunha, author of Singapore Places its Bets, a book on the social and economic impact of the entry of casinos into Singapore, said: "If the Government were to legalise online gaming, it would simply give respectability to this activity. A consequence of that would be to draw new or novice players who would not otherwise engage in online gaming."
He added that the social consequences would be "incalculable, especially when people who are supposed to be at work, use their computers or handheld mobile devices to start punting".
Dr da Cunha also noted that Singapore is not in a situation where it has to find new sources of tax revenues to plug significant budget deficits.
He said: "Government finances are healthy, and the Government already has a raft of revenue streams that draw in vast amounts of monies for the Government's coffers."