There are many ways for Singapore residents to play poker. We have a single legal card room in Sentosa, private home games throughout the country and a huge range of cash games and tournament series held in neighboring countries. I will discuss each option in this article, but first I cover the most popular way it is played, that being online poker.
Poker is a global game and the largest online poker sites operate in multiple languages and currencies. Although none are based in Singapore, several do accept players from our country and support Singapore dollar (SGD). The best of these is listed below.
When using poker sites your account balance is stored in SGD. You can add money to your account using a credit card, debit card or Bitcoins. All the major Singapore bank cards are supported including DBS, UOB, OCBC, Citibank and BNU.
The games are played in United States dollar. However, when you buy-in at a table (or enter a tournament) your SGD balance is converted. When you leave the table (or cash in a tournament) the money is the converted back to SGD at the same rate. Because deposits and pay outs are in SGD, and the same exchange rate is used both ways, no currency exchange fees are charged.
The most popular poker game played online is No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) which is available in cash game, sit and go (SNG) and scheduled multi-table tournament (MTT) formats.
The only legal poker room in Singapore is located in the smoking section of the casino inside Resorts World Sentosa. Here there are seven tables, all of which are No-Limit Texas Hold’em. It is rare all tables are in use. Almost every day of the week from noon until early morning there are tables with blinds of $5/$10 available. On occasions, especially on weekends, higher limit games of $10/$20, $25/$50 and $100/$200 run.
The rake structure is quite interesting. Pots that are $100 or less are not raked. All other pots regardless of the stake are raked 5% up to a $50 maximum. At the $5/$10 game the rake is so unique compared to poker played elsewhere that it changes the dynamics of the game some. The small pots under $100 don’t get raked at all, but the large pots have massive rake. At the higher limit tables the rake is insanely high – and the rake happens even if there is no flop. At $100/$200 a pass around the table involves rake. On the positive side the games are populated mostly by tourists and are played passively with a lot of limping.
The bigger concern for Singapore locals is the game with $5/$10 blinds at Resorts World Sentosa is not really playable for profit unless you have a foreign passport or are a high stakes casino regular. This is because Singapore casinos charge locals $100 SGD to enter unless they have an annual pass which costs $2,000 SGD. With the high rake plus entry cost it is better to seek alternative games.
In Singapore gambling with friends in homes is not illegal. It becomes illegal when the home is turned into a “common gambling house”. What constitutes this is up for legal interpretation. There was a famous case that involved the office of businessman Chua Seong Soi raided over a high stakes Pai Gow game in November 1999. Everyone on site was arrested. The gamblers were fined $1,000 each, and he was fined $20,000 and sentenced to 2-months in prison. He appealed the case and was eventually acquitted. Since this famous case our police have been less aggressive about targeting social gambling and calling homes common gambling houses.
There is a large number of poker games hosted in Singapore in condos. The problem with getting into these games is advertising them would cross the line from social gambling with friends to operating a gambling house. Although crime is very low in Singapore, it also does add risk of robbery too. In order to find these games networking is required. The way to start is making an attempt to become friends with poker players.
Macau is no doubt the top location for Singapore players traveling to play poker. There are many Macau casinos with poker rooms. The No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) games start with blinds of $25/$50 HKD, which is about $4/$8 in SGD. These games are however not always running. At every casino you can find a $50/$100 game and higher stakes games are also offered, though generally speaking these only run in one or two places.
As for the rake, this is also high. It uses the same structure as found at our Resorts World Sentosa. The difference is the rake is capped at $200 HKD (under $33 SGD, compared to $50 SGD cap in our own casino). The one exception is the Venetian where the rake is capped at $250 HKD. For flying to Macau TigerAirways.com is often the cheapest. If selective with dates you can often find round trip tickets for $275 SGD or less.
www.intertops.com is the largest online poker site that accepts Singapore players. Although they do not offer SGD currency it is possible to deposit to their site in USD using your SGD bank account. This involves a small currency conversion fee. This is a great site to use if you are a tournament player. Not only do they have some of the best online tournaments – they also have satellites where you can win seats to major live poker tournaments. These include many in Macau, but also ones in Philippines, Korea and Australia. A number of players from Singapore including Bryan Huang, Ang Pang Leng and Ivan Tan have become poker superstars in Singapore as a result of their successes in high stakes poker tournaments in Asia.
Besides Macau there are other places to travel to play poker too. The closest is Genting Highlands in Malaysia. Here they have two pokerpro tables (these are computerized) that offer NLHE games with blinds of 5/10 and 10/20 MYR which is about 2/4 and 4/8 in SGD. On weekends the games are often played full handed, but it is very slow during the week. There is also poker in Seoul Korea, Siem Reap Cambodia, and many locations in the Philippines which are all only a short flight away from Singapore.