Friday 8 June 2012

Casino ban to extend to another 15,000 vulnerable Singaporeans & PRs from July 2012

By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 7 Jun 2012

Another 15,000 financially vulnerable Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) will be barred from entering the two casinos in Singapore.

From July 2012, the third-party casino exclusion will be extended to 12,000 individuals who are receiving short to medium term ComCare assistance.

ComCare provides short term assistance to low-income families to support them as they take steps to become self-reliant through work. ComCare also provides medium-term assistance to those who are unable to work to support themselves and their families due to temporary illness, disability or other extenuating circumstances

These recipients are mostly unemployed or in financial need.

From August, 3,000 individuals paying subsidised rents for their HDB rental flats, and who have chalked up rental arrears of six months or more, will also be barred.

The Community Development, Youth and Sports Ministry (MCYS) said this is part of its move to strengthen existing social safeguards and to protect the financially vulnerable from casino gambling.

There are currently 28,000 persons who are excluded from the casinos under third-party casino exclusion.

They include undischarged bankrupts and those receiving long-term public assistance and special grants.

The third-party casino exclusion is administered by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

The intent to extend casino exclusions to more financially vulnerable persons was earlier announced by Acting Minister for MCYS Chan Chun Sing in February.

Mr Chan said: "We want to protect the financially vulnerable who can ill afford casino gambling. The 2011 NCPG Gambling Participation Survey showed a small but increasing proportion of low income gamblers who betted large amounts. We want to move proactively to address this.

"This is the group that is financially vulnerable. They may not be exactly deep in trouble yet, but we are already seeing some signs that they may be getting themselves into trouble because if they require financial assistance from ComCare or they're already behind their rental payments, then these are initial signs that they might be getting into trouble.

"We want to avoid having this group get into deeper trouble. People who are already seeking financial help from the society should not get themselves involved in this form of gambling."

NCPG Chairman Mr Lim Hock San said: "We are heartened to see the government taking measures to protect the financially vulnerable. On its part, NCPG will continue its efforts in creating greater awareness of problem gambling."

MCYS said it is working with other government agencies to review relevant legislation and regulations to beef up social safeguards.

Both casino operators - Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa - said they support the move and are committed to working with authorities to promote responsible gambling.

Counsellors have also welcomed the move but some said it may have limited impact on low income individuals who tend to lean towards other forms of gambling, such as football betting or lottery.

Wong Kwong Sing, who is a service director for family service and support at Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, said: "The minimum bet in our casinos involves quite a bit of money. For those who are in financial hardship, they hardly have too much cash but they still bet. We still have some who will go to the casino so it is good news to us that this measure can at least exclude this small group of people from the casino."

Mr Chan said "the gambling problem is a multi-faceted problem".

He said: "There are many, many different forms of gambling with casino being one of them. And we know that casino is also one of the most addictive forms of gambling. There is a tendency for people to chase their losses when they are at the casino so we are doing what we can to tackle this part of the problem. That doesn't mean that they won't be able to divert their gambling habits into other forms, but we will also look at other measures to help them kick this habit and not get themselves into trouble."

Mr Chan said social safeguards such as the third party exclusion order is only a part of the solution to problem gambling. He said family support is also very important, and ultimately, the individual must realise the problem and take proactive steps to overcome it.

This will not be the end to the social safeguards.

The government is expected to announce more measures, at a later date. 

Apart from third-party exclusion, the other two types of casino exclusion are voluntary self-exclusion and family exclusion, where a family member can apply to bar a loved one from entering the casinos.

As of end May, 93,029 individuals are barred from entering the two casinos in Singapore.

They include 64,064 self-exclusions - 13 per cent are Singaporeans and PRs, while 87 per cent are foreigners and 1,083 family exclusion orders.

Problem gambling: Can we do more?
MCYS, counsellors weigh in on move to bar the financially vulnerable
By Ashley Chia, TODAY, 8 Jun 2012

While many welcomed the 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 is one of the most addictive form".

The exclusions will not prevent gambling addicts from diverting their habits into other forms, but Mr 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.

Mr 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, Mr 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.

Mr Chan from One Hope added: "We are looking at building up our manpower and at additional venues to cope with the increase."

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