Saturday 25 February 2012

Low-income gamblers are a worry

But proportion of residents gambling has fallen: Poll
By Jessica Lim & Cheryl Ong, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2012

THE opening of the two integrated resorts in 2010 has not, as feared, led to a higher gambling participation rate in Singapore, a survey has found.

In fact, the proportion of Singapore residents gambling dropped from 54 per cent in 2008 to 47 per cent last year.

But an emerging group of low-income gamblers who bet large amounts is worrying the authorities.
This group, made up of residents who have monthly incomes of less than $2,000, bet an average of more than $1,000 a month.

In 2008, they formed up to 0.8 per cent of those surveyed. Last year, the figure rose to 2 per cent.

To stop them from at least one form of gambling, the government is now looking at expanding third-party casino exclusions to cover a larger number of low-income Singaporeans who are getting government financial aid.

This could include those getting help from the Community Care Endowment Fund.

Currently, third-party exclusions cover only undischarged bankrupts and those on the Public Assistance scheme, where the most needy get cash.

The government is also studying how to implement 'circuit breakers' to discourage frequent gamblers from chasing their losses or keeping up their gambling habits.

This could include working with casinos to limit the amount of time a person can play or spend.

'What we want to do is to take pro-active steps to safeguard the financially vulnerable groups,' said Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

He was commenting on the results of a survey on gambling conducted by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) last year. It polled 3,315 Singapore residents aged 18 and above, and followed similar surveys done in 2005 and 2008.

The two IRs - Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands - opened in February and April of 2010 respectively. Yesterday, it was revealed for the first time that some 200,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents visited the two casinos last year.

The survey found that 1.2 per cent were found to be 'probable problem gamblers', meaning they are starting to show signs like a need to gamble larger amounts to achieve the desired excitement. The figure in 2008 was 1.7 per cent.

The proportion who showed signs of addictive gambling also remained stable - 1.4 per cent reported five or more symptoms that suggest they are what is termed problem pathological gamblers (PPG), up from 1.2 per cent in 2008.

But, the study found, PPGs were betting larger amounts and gambling more frequently.

Each person in this group bet an average of $1,713 a month last year, up from $619 in 2008. Sixty-eight per cent of PPGs are also frequent gamblers who gambled at least once a week in the past year.

Online gambling, said Mr Chan, is also a cause of concern because unlike 4D and Toto, it does not have 'natural breakers' where gamblers can cool-down between each game.

Mr Chan said at a press conference that his ministry will be 'quite surgical' when applying new measures such as expanded third-party exclusion orders. Announcements will be made in the next few months.

'What we want are targeted measures rather than blunt measures that cut across different groups that may not give us the desired outcome and may cause unintended consequences,' he said.

Asked how the number of gamblers and at-risk gamblers could have remained stable in the light of the opening of the casinos, he said that the survey should be treated as just 'one source of information'.

Experiences of other countries have shown that it takes three to five years for things to stabilise after the introduction of casinos, he added.

Plan to widen casino ban on aid recipients
Ministry also looking into limiting visits by frequent gamblers
By Cheryl Ong & Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2012

MORE people receiving financial aid from the Government may be kept out of casinos to tackle the problem of gambling among low-income Singaporeans.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said yesterday it plans to expand its list of third-party exclusion orders to include those on short-term assistance schemes.

These schemes could include the Community Care Endowment Fund, or ComCare Transitions, and Work Support. Both involve cash handouts for those who are temporarily out of work. MCYS is also studying other measures, such as working with the casinos to limit the number of visits by frequent gamblers.

These new safeguards may be implemented over the next few months.

Acting Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Chan Chun Sing announced these plans yesterday, in response to the findings of a gambling participation survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

Currently, third-party exclusion orders cover only undischarged bankrupts and those on the Public Assistance scheme, which doles out long-term cash to the most needy in Singapore.

At the end of last month, 28,884 people were barred from the casinos by such orders. Another 42,722 had applied to exclude themselves and 909 people were barred after successful applications for exclusion orders by their families.

But more needs to be done to help the financially vulnerable, said Mr Chan.

The NCPG survey highlighted a worrying trend: More low-income gamblers are betting large amounts.

Said Mr Chan: 'I think what we will immediately focus on is those who fall under financial difficulties. For example, they... (may) require help in their employment, or maybe they need financial assistance... temporary help.'

Two other groups of concern also emerged from the survey: frequent gamblers and those with poor self-control.

To target these two groups, the MCYS is looking at additional safeguards or 'circuit breakers', such as restricting the number of casino visits by frequent gamblers. Such measures are already in place at casinos in Holland, Austria and Australia, Mr Chan noted.

Holland Casino, for example, monitors its patrons using a registration system. Those making their sixth and 10th visits in one month will receive an early warning to remind them of the risks of gambling. If the casino staff suspect the patron may be suffering from gambling addiction, they will take steps to limit his visits or ban him entirely.

In the next few months, four family service centres (FSCs) - Tanjong Pagar FSC, Ang Mo Kio FSC, Tampines FSC and Hougang Sheng Hong FSC - will be providing financial and legal advice to families affected by problem gambling.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah welcomed the proposals, but pointed out that some measures may be difficult to implement. 'In theory, the circuit breaker idea sounds good. But the casinos are profit-making enterprises, so how well will they be able to identify a problem gambler just by interviewing him?'

Counsellors at two gambling support services, One Hope and Silver Lining, also support such measures. Low-income gambling addicts make up as much as 70 per cent of their regulars.

At the Institute of Mental Health's National Addictions Management Service, half of some 400 people who sought help in 2010 had a monthly income of below $2,000.

Said Silver Lining founder Jolene Ong: 'The risk is that these low-income gamblers turn more quickly to moneylenders when they need loans when their monthly salaries are used up.'

That was what happened to a delivery driver who wanted to be known only as Eric, 42, who was heavily involved in soccer betting nearly 10 years ago.

He was earning only $1,500 a month, but would take out huge bets that amounted to several times his salary. He ended up with debts of up to $40,000. 'It'll be good to protect people on low incomes, especially those going to casinos where the bets are much bigger,' he said.

Fall in Singaporean, PR numbers visiting casinos
By Huang Lijie, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2012

FEWER Singaporeans are gambling at the two casinos, in a sign that the novelty factor could be wearing off.

Both integrated resorts recorded a fall in the number of citizens and permanent residents (PRs) visiting last year.

Yesterday, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said the total figure of 200,000 patrons from these two groups was 'within expectations'.

He added that he was 'less concerned' about these visitors as a whole than about the problem and pathological gamblers.

About 136,400 citizens and PRs visited Resorts World Sentosa's casino last year, down from 199,783 in 2010. The one at Marina Bay Sands also recorded a drop, from 150,691 patrons to 137,259.

It is not possible to combine the figures from both casinos because they opened in different months in 2010, and some visitors could have gone to both.

However, Mr Chan said this overlap was likely to be around 30 per cent, giving the figure of about 200,000.

Gaming analysts said the drop in the number of local casino visitors could be due to the novelty wearing off, and gamblers running out of money to continue.

Professor Davis Fong, director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau, said the 5 per cent of Singaporeans who go to the casinos is much lower than the 25 per cent of locals who do so in his city.

He said Singapore's lower rate could be due to the entry levy for citizens and PRs, which Macau does not have.

Industry analysts have estimated that Singaporeans make up between 20 and 40 per cent of the total number of casino patrons.

However, Prof Fong said locals account for only 5 per cent of casino visitors in Macau. 'This limits the negative social impact,' he added.

Meanwhile, the National Council on Problem Gambling announced the findings of a survey last year on gambling among Singapore residents.

It found that those who played at the gaming tables at the casinos had the second-worst self control, after online gamblers.

Casino models being studied


THE only licensed casino company in Austria requires both locals and foreigners to register every time they visit.

The casino monitors the frequency and gambling intensity of the patrons. Visitors who gamble frequently and intensely will be counselled by trained casino staff on the possible risks of their behaviour.

If the patron continues despite the consultation and he is of a poor financial standing, the casino will limit his visits or ban him.


THE casino in Melbourne, Australia, allows patrons of its loyalty programme to set individual limits on the time and amount they spend on gambling every day, with an additional option to limit their annual spending.

Once the limit is reached, a warning will sound and a message will be shown on the display of the gaming machine or the gaming table. The patron can still continue gambling but he cannot earn any more loyalty points for that day.

The limit can be decreased by the punter, and the change takes effect immediately. However, an increase to the limit takes effect only 24 hours later.

The casino also has a centre where trained staff offer free support and counselling services for patrons who need help with their gambling behaviour.


THE Dutch state-owned company requires all visitors to register, and it monitors the frequency of visits of each patron.

Visitors aged 18 and above will receive a warning on their sixth and 10th visit in a month to alert them to their gambling frequency and the risks of gambling.

If patrons who have been warned continue their frequent visits, they will be advised by a casino staff on the risks of their behaviour. If the patron is suspected of having a gambling addition, the casino may eventually ban or limit his visits.

Analysts laud plan to help at-risk gamblers but raise concerns
By Huang Lijie, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2012

CASINO analysts and observers have welcomed the Government's plan to help frequent gamblers with poor self-control - but they question whether the proposed measures will work.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) announced on Thursday that it planned to work with casinos to introduce safeguards, such as restricting the number of casino visits by frequent gamblers who are financially at-risk.

But analysts and observers say it will be difficult to ensure that the measures do not clash with the operations of the casinos, or drive casino patrons to other forms of betting.

MCYS announced its plan in response to the findings of a survey among Singapore residents, conducted by the National Council on Problem Gambling last year. It found that, based on their responses, those who played at the gaming tables in casinos had the second-worst self-control after online gamblers.

The MCYS is now studying best practices overseas. Examples include monitoring frequent gamblers and restricting the number of visits that financially at-risk punters can make to casinos, or the amounts they can bet (see side story).

Ms Tan Huey Min, general manager of Credit Counselling Singapore, which offers debt counselling to gamblers, said the survey shows that the casino entry levy of $100 has not been completely effective in curbing excessive gambling. However, she welcomed the Government's willingness to improve safeguards.

Mr Jonathan Siew, centre manager of Care Corner Counselling Centre, said such measures were timely.

'It is ineffective to leave it to gamblers to decide when they need to stop, because by that time they are probably addicted to gambling and owe huge debts,' he said.

However, Mr Siew and other observers wondered whether the casinos would be willing to comply with measures limiting the frequency of visits by patrons, as it might dent their profits.

They also questioned the fairness of restricting visits by frequent gamblers who have paid the annual entry levy of $2,000.

Some gaming analysts have suggested that the casinos provide the Government with data on the frequency of visits by patrons but allow the Government to assess and reach out to at-risk gamblers.

Another concern raised by Ms Tan of Credit Counselling Singapore was that the restrictions on gambling at casinos may drive punters to other types of gambling.

But Mr Richard Linstrom, associate dean at the Singapore campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the models that MCYS is studying are feasible because the measures they put in place are strictly enforced.

Social safeguards currently in place here to minimise the ills of casino gambling include the casino entry levies, a minimum age of 21 for entry to casinos, and exclusion orders that can be applied for by problem gamblers or their families.

The two casinos at Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands also impose credit restrictions on local patrons, and there are strict regulations on casino advertising and promotions for the domestic market.

The casinos also have on their premises brochures detailing the help available to problem gamblers, and their staff are trained to assist patrons seeking help.

At Resorts World Sentosa, gamblers may also approach the gaming staff for a voluntary loss-limit service, where a patron decides how much money he wishes to carry into the casino and deposits the rest of his belongings in a security locker.

Singapore's Casino Control Act under review in 2012
Casino ban to extend to another 15,000 vulnerable Singaporeans & PRs from July 2012
Proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act

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