Problem gambling: Can we do more? — Ashley Chia
JUNE 8 — While many welcomed the Singapore government’s announcement yesterday to bar an additional 15,000 financially vulnerable Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs) from entering the casinos, counsellors TODAY spoke to felt more could be done to curb the scourge of problem gambling.
Some have called for the casino entry levy to be raised, while others said more measures could be introduced to curb other forms of gambling that are prevalent with the financially vulnerable group, such as football betting, horse-racing and the lottery — which require smaller amounts of money.
Acting Minister for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said yesterday gambling is “a multi-faceted problem” and that “casinos are one of the most addictive forms”.
The exclusions will not prevent gambling addicts from diverting their habits into other forms, but Chan said the ministry “will also look at other measures to help them kick this habit and not get themselves into trouble”.
Dr Thomas Lee, a psychiatrist in private practice who has chaired a Health Ministry work group on gambling disorders, suggested the government could extend its exclusion measures to retail betting outlets as a way to further deter gambling addicts.
Chan Boon Huat, head of volunteer management and programmes at One Hope Centre, said: “Casinos are no longer an attraction because they can afford the levy. People in this income group are more likely to indulge in other forms of gambling, legal or illegal, to try their luck and get some thrills.”
While the suggestion to raise the entry levy has been raised previously, Wong Kwong Sing, service director of family service and support at Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, said there “wouldn’t be too much of a deterrence effect” as many gamblers are “happy to pay the levy because the cost and time spent going to places like Genting and cruise casinos would cause inconvenience”.
As at May 31, there are 93,029 persons barred from entering the casinos. Of the number, 27,882 are barred under third-party exclusions. Among the 64,000 self-exclusions, Singaporeans and PRs comprised 13 per cent, while the rest were foreigners.
New casino exclusions will begin on July 1 for 12,000 recipients of ComCare short to medium assistance, which is provided to those unable to work temporarily due to illness.
A month later, 3,000 HDB flat tenants who pay subsidised rents with rental arrears of six months or more will also be barred from the casinos.
The MCYS is also working with various agencies “including casino operators to review some of the rules and regulations governing the entire industry”.
As the European football championship kicks off at midnight, and with the London Olympics beginning next month, counsellors are bracing themselves for a rise in the number of people who will be seeking help after the two events end.
Chan from One Hope added: “We are looking at building up our manpower and at additional venues to cope with the increase.” — Today
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.