by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia

4-D is the most popular gambling pastime in Singapore, with 53 percent of Singaporeans participating in the lottery, according to a survey by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. In the survey conducted between December 2004 and February 2005, Singapore residents aged 18 and above were asked about their participation in gambling activities over the last 12 months. Among those who gambled, 64 percent started with 4-D, and 78 percent began regular gambling with it. 4-D was also found to be the most popular gambling activity among probable pathological gamblers.1

One of the earliest reports of a ‘character lottery’ operation running a lottery for three and four characters or digits (hence the acronym 4-D for four digits) in Singapore was in 1956, at the trial of a family, running such an illegal operation. A detective from Penang, Mr Gee Kok Weng, was brought to Singapore to testify as an expert witness. Gee gave the origin of the lottery as being from Kedah, when a schoolboy in 1951 raffled off his bicycle with tickets with two-digit numbers. The winning ticket would be the one whose numbers matched the last two digits of the first prize ticket drawn at the turf club sweepstake at that time. Lotteries being run in the case were three-digit ‘thousand character’ [千字] and four-digit ’ten thousand character’ [万字] lotteries.2

Such illegal character lotteries quickly became a significant drain on the revenues of the turf clubs.3 The Singapore Turf Club lottery was the only form of legal gambling here, having been exempted from the law in 1928.4 In 1958, the Perak Turf Club introduced a two-digit lottery, after which, the Malayan turf clubs started a three-digit lottery.5 The Singapore Turf Club became the first to run a four-digit character lottery in 1966.6

Two decades later in 1986, Singapore Pools computerised their sales outlets and introduced the Quick Pick system as an option to select 4-D numbers. This led to a drop in 4-D sales for both the Singapore Turf Club and illegal bookies.7

On 16 June 2005, Singapore Pools launched the iBet system – a way to place bets on all permutations of four-digit numbers, and 4D Roll where the player chooses the first three digits only.8 Online 4-D betting also began in 2016.9 The biggest 4-D win was S$14 million won by a man in his 40s during a draw in September 2005. His bet for a single draw was estimated to be between S$4,667 and S$7,000.10

The quest for lucky numbers
Motorists slowing down at accident sites to note the registration numbers of vehicles involved in accidents for their 4-D bets is a well-known phenomenon in Singapore.11 Punters are also known to flock to remote parts of Singapore and Malaysia to pray to temple deities, in cemeteries and other sites reputed for giving winning numbers.12 They even turn up at murder sites in their hunt for “lucky numbers”, which could be in the form of registration numbers of police vehicles or unit numbers of blocks and apartments of the crime scene.13 Another lottery fad that gripped Singaporeans in the early 2000s, was rearing the Flowerhorn fish, commonly called Luohan, to decipher the spots and markings on their scales for lucky numbers.14

With the government’s announcement of cash handouts of S$200 to S$800 to Singaporeans on 17 February 2006,15 some members of parliament expressed their concerns about citizens immediately spending the money on things like 4D, showing the prevalence of the habit among Singaporeans.16 A long running 4-D magazine with both Chinese and English editions was even started in 1991.17


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. (2005, April 13). More than half of Singapore gambles; but only 2 in 100 at risk of gambling addiction. Retrieved March 29, 2006, from http://www.mcys.gov.sg/MCDSFiles/Press/Articles/SporeGambles.pdf 
2. Boy’s brainwave started it all. (1956, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Morgan, L. (1957, October 4). $60,000,000 for the bookies. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Sharp, I., & Stephens, J. (1998). Just a little flutter: The Singapore Pools story. Singapore: Singapore Pools, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 336.1095957 SHA)
5. Chan, T. W. (1966, May 8). $multi-million idea from a schoolboy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Four-digit lottery becomes legal in S’pore. (1966, April 27). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Nair, S. (1986, June 19). Less betting at Turf Club outlets. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Leong, C. (2005, June 10). Betting junkies, this is your lucky day. Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Cheong, D. and Lin, M. (2016, September 30). Online betting to be introduced in next 2 months. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
10. 历来最大赢家: 男子中万字票1400万元 [Largest winner in history: Man wins $14 million in 4D]. (2007, January 7). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Tan, D. (2015, August 7). SG quirky: The A-Z of SG50. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Teo, L. H. (1994, June 2). When the world ended, I was still in the jam. The New Paper, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Koh, M. (2007, September 16). Lucky spot? We’ll be there. The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Chia, D. (2005, August 9). Horror show & tell. The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Mulchand, A. (2004, June 26). Luohan no longer a prized catch now. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. A budget with head and heart. (2006, February 18). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chang, C. (2006, February 28). What if they spend it on 4D? The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. 万字票中奖格系统 [4D winning box (Chinese edition)]. (1991­−). Singapore: VGB Enterprise. Singapore: VGB Enterprise. Available via PublicationSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 2006 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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