Singapore Pools' 50th anniversary: From combating back-alley gambling to being big community player

Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat speaking at Singapore Pools 50th anniversary celebrations on 21 May, 2018, at JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach. (PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore)
Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat speaking at Singapore Pools 50th anniversary celebrations on 21 May, 2018, at JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach. (PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore)

From combating “illicit mini-casinos” in the back alleys of Singapore to growing into an organisation that has donated billions of dollars across six sectors ranging from charity, arts to sports.

Singapore Pools has come a long way since its inception in 1968 and on Monday night (21 May), the gaming operator celebrated its 50th anniversary with a recap of its milestones over the years.

Speaking at the anniversary event, Guest-of-Honour and Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat said in the early days of modern Singapore, the streets were rife with illegal gambling where “punters placed bets with illegal operators and were vulnerable to filching, unfair play and other illicit practices”.

Hence, the authorities then saw the need to curb the trend by creating a legal gaming operator, said Heng at the event attended by over 250 guests at JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach.

“At their peak in the 1960s, these (illegal) operators were estimated to each turn over $300,000 daily, equivalent to over $2 million today,” said Heng. “The question for us then was… how could we channel the large sums generated out of these games towards uses that could benefit society?”

Singapore Pools was thus set up on May 23, 1968, to “create a safe space for Singaporeans to participate in a game of chance without being victims of unfair practices” and “to allow surpluses to be directed towards meaningful causes for the community”, he added.

Heng also noted that Singapore Pools’ first contribution was towards the construction of Singapore’s first National Stadium, without which the venue might not have been built given that Singapore was then facing tight fiscal conditions.

“18 National Day Parades, two Southeast Asian Games and countless other sporting and non-sporting events were made possible (at the Stadium) in part due to Pools’ investment,” he said.

Other iconic landmarks that Singapore Pools had contributed towards building include the Indoor Stadium in 1988 and the Esplanade in 1996. The operator has also been a major supporter of annual nationwide events such as the Chingay Parade.

Donations and contributions were made “more impactful” when Singapore Pools became a subsidiary under the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) as it allowed for the pooling of betting revenues from Singapore Pools and Turf Club and more focus in grant-making, he said.

The gaming surpluses from Singapore Pools have supported a wide range of activities across various sectors, the minister added. Since 2004, Singapore Pools has channeled more than $5.8 billion of these surpluses to support six key sectors – charity, community development, education, health, sports and the arts.

Working with the authorities, Singapore Pools has also played a role in ensuring that customers play responsibly without jeopardising their financial situation.

Consequently, it achieved the highest certification under the World Lottery Association Responsible Gaming Framework – the best standards in the global lottery industry – in 2012 and 2015, Heng said.

Singapore Pools is also keeping pace with technological changes in the area of charity-giving. It will be launching a non-profit cloud service provider called iShine Cloud – a collaboration with National Council for Social Services – to enable charities to improve their digital capabilities and better focus on the groups they serve.

Koh Choon Hui, Chairman of Singapore Pools, took the opportunity to thank the operator’s past leaders and paid tribute to its charitable spirit.

“My heartfelt wish is for Singapore Pools to be a force for good for the community. For it is in giving that we receive – may we never waver from this spirit,” he said.

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