Singapore Infopedia

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia, 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.The Singapore Turf Club lottery was then the only form of legal gambling, having been exempted from the law in 1928.In 1958, the Perak Turf Club introduced a two-digit lottery, followed by a three-digit lottery among the Malayan turf clubs.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.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,” New Paper, 27 February 2015, 8–9. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Boy’s Brainwave Started It All,” Straits Times, 18 October 1956, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Llyod Morgan, “$60,000,000 for the Bookies,” Straits Times, 4 October 1957, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Ilsa Sharp and Jacinta Stephens, Just a Little Flutter: The Singapore Pools Story (Singapore: Singapore Pools, 1998), 17. (Call no. RSING 336.1095957 SHA)
5. Chan Tin Weng, “$Multi-Million Idea from a Schoolboy,” Straits Times, 8 May 1966, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Four-Digit Lottery Becomes Legal in S’pore,” Straits Times, 27 April 1966, 18; “Schoolboy’s Raffle Led to ‘Birth’ of Underground Lottery,” Straits Times, 20 July 1985, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “On-Line Toto Betting Front May 19,” Straits Times, 2 May 1986, 26; Linda Chan and Betty Ortega, “Toto Plans to Go Computer,” Singapore Monitor, 19 June 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Denns Chia, “STC to Start ‘Small’ 4D at Perak Meet,” New Nation, 22 July 1972, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Sit Yin Fong, “New 4-D Lottery Off to Rousing Start,” Singapore Monitor, 16 June 1985, 2; Suresh Nair, “Mystery of Extra Ball in 4-D Draw,” Straits Times, 15 April 1986, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Charmaine Chan, “Two Jailed for Plot to Rig 4-D Draw,” Straits Times, 3 May 1986, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Sit Yin Fong and Suresh Nair, “Changes in 4D from Saturday,” Singapore Monitor, 13 June 1985, 1; Sit Yin Fong, “New 4-D Format a Boon for Illegal Bookies: Betting Sources,” Singapore Monitor, 14 June 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “MPs Worry about Gambling Plan,” Singapore Monitor, 20 July 1985, 8; Leslie Fong, “Govt Should Explain S'pore Pools' 4-D Move,” Straits Times, 1 July 1985, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Lai Yew Kong, “4-D Kingpins Look at Ways to Fight S'pore Pools Outlets,” Straits Times, 20 July 1985, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Pools’ On-Line 4-D Outlets Look a Sure Winner from the Start,” Straits Times, 27 May 1986, 9; Suresh Nair, “Less Betting at Turf Club Outlets,” Straits Times, 19 June 1986, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Betting Not for the Young,” Straits Times, 17 May 1986, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Bill to Keep Tabs on Turf Club Passed,” Straits Times, 11 November 1987, 1; “Board to Control Racing Profits,” Straits Times, 11 November 1987, 1;” Why Govt Set Up Tote Board,” Straits Times, 15 March 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Conrad Raj, “Turf Club Fails in Bid to Keep Name and Membership,” Straits Times, 7 April 1988, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Anna Teo, “Tote Board Considering New Agents for Horse Races,” Business Times, 15 March 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Tote Board Registers New Club with Chin Tuan at Helm,” Straits Times, 22 March 1988, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Singapore Turf Club Lives Again from June 1,” Straits Times, 20 May 1994, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “4-Digits Are Drawn the New Way,” Straits Times, 7 April 1991, 16; “Four-Digit Draw Will Not Be Based on a Race from April 6,” Straits Times, 23 March 1991, 20; “System of Stringent Controls Ensures Security of 4-D Draws,” Straits Times, 1 May 1993, 52. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Kwan Chooi Tow, “Faster and Easier 4-D Betting at Turf Club Outlets,” Straits Times, 7 January 1993, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Ron Teo, “BTC to Launch $8M Betting System for Tote on Feb 20,” Straits Times, 12 February 1993, 42; “Advantages of the New System,” New Paper, 1 February 1993, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Malcolm Bastians, “Buy Your 4-D Via Telephone,” Straits Times, 29 October 1995, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Wednesday 4-D Draw,” New Paper, 28 July 2000, 88. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Legal S’pore Sweep 4-D from Today,” Straits Times, 7 April 1993, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “4-D Draws,” Straits Times, 27 June 2001, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Totalisator Board to Acquire S’pore Pools,” Today, 24 February 2004, 12; “S’pore Pools Sale Delayed,” Straits Times, 23 March 2004, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Cubby Leong, “Betting Junkies, This Is Your Lucky Day,” Today, 10 June 2005, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Andre Yeo, “4D and Toto on British Betting Site,” New Paper, 10 November 2005, 9; Tan Mae Lynn, “4-D Bets Online? Beware,” New Paper, 10 May 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Lim Yi Han, “Singapore Poised to Block All Roads to Unlicensed Gambling Websites,” Straits Times, 29 January 2015, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Lee U-Wen, “Singapore Pools and Turf Club Get Nod to Launch Online Betting,” Business Times, 30 September 2016, 4; Amanda Lee, “Online Betting to Be Allowed Via S’pore Pools, Turf Club,” Today, 30 September 2016, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Singapore Pools to Suspend Lottery Draws, Close Outlets and Online Betting Service,” Channel NewsAsia, 4 April 2020.
34. Nicole Chia, N. (2020, June 22). “Singapore Pools Reopens, with Punters Visiting Branches Islandwide,” Straits Times, 22 June 2020.
35. Mak Mun San, “4-D a Winner? You Bet,” Straits Times, 8 July 2007, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “The Hot Numbers,” Straits Times, 8 July 2007, 49. (From NewspaperSG)
37. Godwin Ng, “She Dreams of Lucky Numbers,” New Paper, 27 February 2015, 8–9; “4-D and the Sick,” Straits Times, 26 June 2005, 24; “Getai King's Death Date Sparks Hopes for 4-D Windfall,” New Paper, 2 August 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
38. Maureen Koh, “Lucky Spot? We’ll Be There,” New Paper, 16 September 2007, 3; Mak Mun San, “God of 4-D Dreams,” Straits Times, 29 October 2006, L2. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Dylan Tan, “SG Quirky: The A-Z of SG50,” Business Times, 7 August 2015, 38–39; Teo Lian Huay, “When the World Ended, I Was Still in the Jam,” New Paper, 2 June 1994, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Maureen Koh, “Lucky Spot? We’ll Be There,” New Paper, 16 September 2007, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Dawn Chia, “Horror Show & Tell,” New Paper, 9 August 2005, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Arti Mulchand, “Luohan No Longer a Prized Catch Now,” Straits Times, 26 June 2004, 13. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Clarence Chang, “What If They Spend It on 4D?,” New Paper, 28 February 2006, 5. (From NewspaperSG)

Danson Cheong and Melissa Lin, “Online Betting to Be Introduced in Next 2 Months,” Straits Times, 20 September 2016, 5. (From NewspaperSG)

“Lilai zuida yingjia nanzi zhong wanzi piao 1400 wan yuan,” 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], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 7 January 2006, 18. (From NewspaperSG)

Wanzi piao zhongjiang ge xitong万字票中奖格系统 [4D winning box] (Singapore: VGB Enterprise, 1991). (From 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.


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