by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia and Goh, Lee Kim
4D, a lottery operated by the government-owned Singapore Pools, is the most popular gambling activity in Singapore.1 The acronym stands for “four digits”, referring to the four numbers that characterise the lottery.
One of the earliest reports of a lottery that used three (千字, or “thousand characters”) and four (万字, or “ten thousand characters”) digits in Singapore was in 1956, when members of a family who had been caught running an illegal gambling operation went on trial. A detective from Penang was brought to Singapore to testify as an expert witness. According to him, the lottery originated in Kedah in 1951, when a schoolboy raffled off his bicycle with tickets containing two-digit numbers. The winning ticket was the one whose numbers matched the last two digits of the first-prize ticket drawn at the turf club sweepstake.2
Illegal four-digit betting soon gained popularity in Singapore, which caused a significant drain on the revenues of the turf clubs.3 The Singapore Turf Club lottery was then the only form of legal gambling, having been exempted from the law in 1928.4 In 1958, the Perak Turf Club introduced a two-digit lottery, followed by a three-digit lottery among the Malayan turf clubs.5 In 1966, the Singapore Turf Club (STC) became the first legalised body in Singapore to operate a four-digit character lottery, known as Four Digits, to curb illegal betting.6
Until 1986, four-digit betting in Singapore was only available legally through the STC, while bookmakers (commonly known as “bookies”) ran gambling rackets.7 Initially, the STC sold only “big” bets for the lottery, but started to accept “small” bets from July 1972.8 From 15 June 1985, the STC began to draw its own results for the four-digit lottery on off-course racing days.9 To make a draw, five metal globes were used: the Horse Drum to draw horse numbers, while the other four globes, each containing 10 balls numbered 0 to 9, were used to draw the four digits. The order of the digits was determined by the finishing positions of the horses in the race.10 Previously, the STC only drew results on local racing days, while results on off-course days were based on races held by Malaysian turf clubs.11
In 1985, the state-owned Singapore Pools announced plans to roll out the computerised sale of 4D lottery, to which members of Parliament and the media expressed concern regarding the increased ease of access to gambling.12 The move was meant to curb illegal betting by providing punters with legal betting avenues.13 In May 1986, Singapore Pools introduced 4D lottery and computerisation sale at its outlets, which then numbered almost a hundred across the country.14 Singapore Pools set a minimum age of 18 for Toto (two-digit lottery) and 4D betting.15
The Singapore Totalisator Board Act came into force on 1 January 1988, constituting the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board). This statutory board was formed to regulate the STC’s betting activities and to manage funds from horse racing and lotteries.16 In March that year, the Tote Board removed the STC as the operating agent for horse racing and 4D as the latter did not accept the terms and conditions set out by the Board.17 Despite an appeal from the STC,18 a new club under the Tote Board – Bukit Turf Club – was formed on 21 March 1988 to take over as the operating agent.19 It was renamed Singapore Turf Club on 1 June 1994, while the former STC had been dissolved.20
The 4D system underwent several changes in the 1990s. From 6 April 1991, for the first time since the launch of the official four-digit lottery in Singapore in 1966, the betting results were no longer tied to horse racing, but drawn electronically using four drawing cylinders and numbered balls. As the results were no longer dependent on the number of horses in a race, each draw could thus consistently have 23 prizes – top three, 10 starter and 10 consolation prizes.21
On 11 January 1993, the Bukit Turf Club launched the Mark Sense betting system. Punters could now mark their 4D numbers on a coupon, which was then read by a computer. Before this, bets were placed verbally or written down on paper.22 The system, which cost S$8 million, increased processing efficiency and reduced errors at the betting counters. It also allowed the placement of advance bets and a Lucky Pick option where the computer system randomly selected a set of 4D numbers.23 In November 1995, the STC launched Telebet and Access – phone-betting and handheld computer-betting service, respectively – for 4D.24
On 9 August 2000, 4D draws were extended to Wednesdays in a weekly draw, except the first Wednesday of each month when the Singapore Sweep 4D was drawn.25 Wednesday draws first began in April 1993 when the Bukit Turf Club started an extra 4D draw held monthly on a Wednesday based on the Singapore Sweep results.26 Singapore Pools took over the Wednesday draws from 4 July 2001 onwards due to the cessation of Wednesday races at the STC.27
With the Tote Board’s acquisition of Singapore Pools from Temasek Holdings in May 2004, the operations of number lotteries in Singapore, including 4D, were transferred to Singapore Pools, while the STC concentrated on horse racing.28 On 16 June 2005, Singapore Pools launched iBet – a way to place bets on all permutations of four-digit numbers – and 4D Roll where the player chooses only the first three digits.29
In the 2000s, the media reported on overseas online betting sites offering illegal lotteries similar to 4D and Toto that followed local draws.30 To clamp down on unregulated remote gambling, the Remote Gambling Act was passed by Parliament in November 2014.31 Nonetheless, Singapore Pools received a three-year exemption from this law starting from 29 September 2016, allowing it to launch an online and phone-betting service on 25 October that year. To ensure responsible gambling, only those aged 21 and above were allowed to register for accounts.32
Singapore Pools suspended all lottery draws and betting activities and closed all its outlets on 7 April 2020, following the implementation of circuit-breaker measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.33 Betting resumed on 24 June 2020.34
Quest for lucky numbers
Local punters have sought inspiration for 4D numbers from unfortunate events, special occasions and personally significant numbers.35 Singapore Pools places a cap on bets for “hot numbers” popular with punters to limit its liability in the event that these are drawn.36 Some commonly used numbers include birth and death dates, addresses, phone numbers and licence plate numbers of vehicles involved in traffic accidents. Punters also pray for “lucky numbers” at funeral wakes,37 temples and unique natural formations thought to be “lucky spots”.38
Motorists slowing down at accident sites to note the registration numbers of vehicles involved in accidents for their 4D bets is a well-known phenomenon in Singapore.39 Punters are also known to flock to remote parts of Singapore and Malaysia to pray to temple deities, to cemeteries and other sites reputed for giving winning numbers.40 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 the block or unit numbers of the crime scene.41 Another lottery fad that gripped Singaporeans in the early 2000s was the rearing of the Flowerhorn fish, commonly known as the luohan, to decipher the spots and markings on their scales for lucky numbers.42
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Goh Lee Kim
1. 4D tops, then comes Toto. (2015, February 27). The New Paper, p. 8/9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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; Schoolboy’s raffle led to ‘birth’ of underground lottery. (1985, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. On-line Toto betting front May 19. (1986, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 26; Chan, L., & Ortega, B. (1985, June 19). Toto plans to go computer. Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chia, D. (1972, July 22). STC to start ‘small’ 4D at Perak meet. New Nation, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Sit, Y. F. (1985, June 16). New 4-D lottery off to rousing start. Singapore Monitor, p. 2; Mystery of extra ball in 4-D draw. (1986, April 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chan, C. (1986, May 3). Two jailed for plot to rig 4-D draw. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Sit, Y. F., & Nair, S. (1985, June 13). Changes in 4D from Saturday. Singapore Monitor, p. 1; Sit, Y. F. (1985, June 14). New 4-D format a boon for illegal bookies: Betting sources. Singapore Monitor, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. MPs worry about gambling plan. (1985, July 20). Singapore Monitor, p. 8; Fong, L. (1985, July 1). Govt should explain S'pore Pools' 4-D move. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Lai, Y. K. (1985, July 20). 4-D kingpins look at ways to fight S'pore Pools outlets. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Pools’ on-line 4-D outlets look a sure winner from the start. (1986, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 9; Nair, S. (1986, June 19). Less betting at Turf Club outlets. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Betting not for the young. (1986, May 17). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Bill to keep tabs on Turf Club passed. (1987, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 1; Board to control racing profits. (1987, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 1; Why Govt set up Tote Board. (1988, March 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Raj, C. (1988, April 7). Turf Club fails in bid to keep name and membership. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Teo, A. (1988, March 15). Tote board considering new agents for horse races. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tote Board registers new club with Chin Tuan at helm. (1988, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore Turf Club lives again from June 1. (1994, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. 4-digits are drawn the new way. (1991, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 16; Four-digit draw will not be based on a race from April 6. (1991, March 23). The Straits Times, p. 20; System of stringent controls ensures security of 4-D draws. (1993, May 1). The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Kwan, C. T. (1993, January 7). Faster and easier 4-D betting at Turf Club outlets. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Teo, R. (1993, February 12). BTC to launch $8m betting system for tote on Feb 20. The Straits Times, p. 42; Advantages of the new system. (1993, February 1). The New Paper, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Bastians, M. (1995, October 29). Buy your 4-D via telephone. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Wednesday 4-D draw. (2000, July 28). The New Paper, p. 88. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Legal S’pore Sweep 4-D from today. (1993, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. 4-D draws. (2001, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Totalisator Board to acquire S’pore Pools. (2004, February 24). Today, p. 12; S’pore Pools sale delayed. (2004, March 23). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Leong, C. (2005, June 10). Betting junkies, this is your lucky day. Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Yeo, A. (2005, November 10). 4D and Toto on British betting site. The New Paper, p. 9; Tan, M. L. (2004, May 10). 4-D bets online? Beware. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Lim, Y. H. (2015, January 29). Singapore poised to block all roads to unlicensed gambling websites. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Lee, U.-W. (2016, September 30). Singapore Pools and Turf Club get nod to launch online betting. The Business Times, p. 4; Lee, A. (2016, September 30). Online betting to be allowed via S’pore Pools, Turf Club. Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Singapore Pools to suspend lottery draws, close outlets and online betting service. (2020, April 4). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-pools-suspend-4d-toto-close-outlets-online-betting-12609116
34. Chia, N. (2020, June 22). Singapore Pools reopens, with punters visiting branches islandwide. The Straits Times. Retrieved from The Straits Times website: https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/singapore-pools-reopens-on-monday-with-punters-visiting-branches-islandwide
35. Mak, M. S. (2007, July 8). 4-D a winner? You bet. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. The hot numbers. (2007, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Ng, G. (2015, February 27). She dreams of lucky numbers. The New Paper, pp. 8–9; 4-D and the sick. (2005, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 24; Getai king's death date sparks hopes for 4-D windfall. (2006, August 2). The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Koh, M. (2007, September 16). Lucky spot? We’ll be there. The New Paper, p. 3; Mak, M. S. (2006, October 29). God of 4-D dreams. The Straits Times, p. L2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Tan, D. (2015, August 7). SG quirky: The A-Z of SG50. The Business Times, pp. 38/39; Teo, L. H. (1994, June 2). When the world ended, I was still in the jam. The New Paper, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Koh, M. (2007, September 16). Lucky spot? We’ll be there. The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Chia, D. (2005, August 9). Horror show & tell. The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Mulchand, A. (2004, June 26). Luohan no longer a prized catch now. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Chang, C. (2006, February 28). What if they spend it on 4D? The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Cheong, D., & Lin, M. (2016, September 30). Online betting to be introduced in next 2 months. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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]. (2006, January 7). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
《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 June 2020 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.