History of Gambling in Singapore: from the Colonial Period to Independence

History of Gambling in Singapore

History of gambling in Singapore, from the Colonial Period and World War 2 to Independence.

Gambling has a long history in Singapore that can be traced back to the Colonial Period and since then it had been legalized and outlawed repeatedly. As you will find out by reading on, betting has never been a stranger in Singapore.

19th Century

The majority of Chinese settlers who arrived in Malaya and Singapore worked as laborers. Many of them used opium and gambled, spending all of their income on betting and opiate. The Chinese gambling dense and cock-fighting were outlawed in 1823 under the rule of Sir Stamford Raffles. He also banned slavery and imposed high taxes on opium smoking and drunkenness. William Farquhar took office when Raffles left, legalizing gambling as a source of government revenue. The major Chinese gambling dens were issued licenses and began operating. While betting was repeatedly outlawed throughout the 19th century, the gambling dens never stopped working. Found in today’s Central Business District, the China Street was once a hub for moneylenders, secret societies, and many gambling dens.

Singapore Turf Club

The Turf Club was established in 1842 by Henry Macleod Read who also founded the Sailor’s Home and organized Singapore’s first rowing regatta. The first horse racing event took place in 1843 in Farrer Park in Singapore prize money being announced at $150. Horse racing events were made open to the public in the 1960s, and betting crowds flocked to the grandstands on weekends.

World War 2

Different types of gambling games were allowed, through unofficially, under Japanese rule (1942 – 1945). The occupation authorities actually introduced the first lottery in Singapore which was then called Shonan Island. Civil employees were officially required to purchase tickets, and the money was used to fund the island’s administration. The top prize was $50, each ticket worth $1.


Singapore gained independence from Malaysia under the Independence of Singapore Agreement 1965. In 1968, Singapore Pools Private Limited was established to fight the illegal gambling dens operated by gangs that were also involved in prostitution, drugs, extortion, and loansharking. SGK Pools became the sole operator in Singapore to legally offer lottery tickets. The TOTO lottery was also launched soon thanks to Nikolai Papadopov who was a Bulgarian Toto expert. The Singapore Sweep, another type of lottery game, was introduced in 1969, with a top prize at $400,000. Offered at small booths across Singapore, tickets cost $1. By 1983, the top prize increased to $1 million. Another game, 4D, which is based on 4 digits, was introduced in 1986 and soon became popular as Singaporeans like to base predictions on car accidents, deities, newspapers, and the Luohan fish. It was only in 1999 when sports betting was legalized with the launch of SCORE and since then, Singapore Pools has introduced a number of gaming options such as telephone betting, system roll and iBet, and Scratcit!, which is a type of a scratch-and-win game.

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