Monday, 9 July 2012

Proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act

More than five casino visits could trigger curbs
Checks will be run on frequent gamblers to find out if they are in financial distress
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2012

Singaporeans and permanent residents who visit the casino more than five times a month may need to show the Government that they are not in financial distress, to avoid having the number of their casino visits capped.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, fleshing out details of the proposed casino 'visit limits' yesterday, said a punter who makes six to 10 casino visits a month is considered a 'quite high-frequency' gambler, one for whom a further check into his financial background is warranted.

Proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act
Acting Minister shares more on the social safeguards under the proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act to further protect the financially vulnerable from problem gambling.
Posted by MSF Singapore on Monday, July 9, 2012


He said the plan is for the casinos to run through their entry records to identify those who have dropped in for a wager more than five times in a given month.

Their names will then be sent to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which will look at the financial background of these gamblers and assess whether a limit should be placed on their casino visits.

The minister was speaking to reporters a day after the Government proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act to further protect vulnerable groups from gambling and ensure that the two integrated resorts remain attractive tourist destinations.

Mr Chan said the proposed 'visit limits' are aimed at those whose gambling habits, if left unchecked, could leave them in serious debt.

'Who we are most concerned with are those who go there frequently and exhibit signs that they are losing control of their gaming habits,' he said.

He estimated the number of such frequent gamblers to be 4,000 to 6,000.

In assessing an individual's financial status, the council could ask for documents to prove he is debt- or arrears-free; run credit checks or interview family members.

Mr Chan emphasised that not all captured on the high-frequency visit list would have their casino visits capped. For example, if a person gambles at the casino every day but wagers $50 each time, he would not be reined in if he can show that his finances are in order.

The 'visit limits' measure is designed to be like the current casino exclusion orders: Individuals can apply to set a limit on themselves, or their family members can ask for their visits to be capped.

The cap on visits can also be set by a third party - in this case, the council.

Mr Chan said that broadly, the number of visits allowed will not be higher than a gambler's current frequency.

Other details such as what the council would do if an individual flouts the visit limits will be worked out later.

Mr Chan said that if things go as planned, the measure would be in place by June next year.

He also called on Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa to be more proactive. 'The people on the floor can help pick out people who are gambling heavily and refer them to the NCPG.'

The proposed changes come a month after third-party exclusion orders were extended to include the 15,000 individuals on financial aid schemes and those in arrears of their subsidised rent.

The new measures are meant to target an emerging group of low-income gamblers who bet large amounts; these individuals earn less than $2,000, yet bet an average of more than $1,000 a month.

Results from a gambling study conducted by the council found that they made up 2 per cent of those surveyed, up from 0.8 per cent in 2008. It had polled 3,315 Singapore residents aged 18 and above.

The council said yesterday that it would seek the views of key stakeholders on the proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act.

It will do this through closed-door dialogues this month and next, then collate the views and present them and its own recommendations to the Government for consideration.




* Casino visit limits: Plans for risk-based approach

THE headline of yesterday's article ('More than five casino visits could trigger curbs') gives the impression that there will be a single pre-determined number of visits that will trigger the proposed casino visit limit for every local casino patron. This is not the policy intention.

We plan to adopt a risk-based approach, taking into consideration a patron's individual circumstances, including frequency and pattern of visits and other telltale signs such as overstaying beyond the 24-hour period.

In implementing the system, we will also take reference from the experience of other jurisdictions that have implemented similar visit limits.

The article stated that the measure is to address an emerging group of low-income gamblers who bet large amounts.

The proposed visit limit is targeted at the financially vulnerable who are showing signs of financial problems. Financial problems are not confined to low-income earners.

As this is a targeted measure, it is expected to impact some 4,000 to 6,000 local casino patrons.

Families should consider applying for casino exclusions or visit limits if there is a need. There are also counselling and treatment services available for problem gamblers and families.

Casino patrons can also use the pre-commitment system that both casinos have already set up to limit how much they will spend at any visit.

The proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act will also require casinos to benchmark their Responsible Gambling against international best practices, for example, in educating patrons on problem gambling and the social safeguard measures available to them, and in training their employees to assist gamblers who display signs of trouble on the casino floor and refer them to help services.

We welcome feedback on the proposed enhancements to the casino social safeguards. The National Council on Problem Gambling will also be holding stakeholder consultations.

With support from all stakeholders, we can continue to have stringent and comprehensive casino social safeguards.

Charlotte Beck (Ms)
Senior Director
Gambling Safeguards Division




Casino visit cap 'may spur bigger bets'
Counsellors say addicts likely to bet more, stay longer to raise chances
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2012

Gambling addiction counsellors said that while limiting the number of times a gambler can go to the casino would help, there would be others who would want to bet more to maximise their chances.

They pointed out that those who are already hooked on gambling do not think logically, and would likely increase their wagers in the hope of winning big.

The counsellors were responding to the Government's proposal to impose a cap on the number of times a gambler who is financially at risk can visit the casino.

'They would likely bet more than they did before, especially if it's their last visit of the month,' said Ms Jolene Ong, executive director of The Silver Lining, which runs gambling rehabilitation programmes.

Psychotherapist Dick Lum, who counsels problem gamblers, said it is also highly likely that they would maximise their visits by staying in the casinos longer.

Indeed, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, yesterday said curbing the number of visits to the casino is not enough. But he said it is not up to his ministry to set a loss limit on gamblers, as the individual would know best how much he can afford to lose.

He said instead that the two casino operators, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) and Marina Bay Sands, should help by referring heavy gamblers to the National Council on Problem Gambling for counselling.

Mr Lum agreed that counselling plays a big part in turning gambling addicts around.

'You can bar a person from the casino or restrict his access, but if he is not counselled, he may never see the harm he is doing to himself and his family.'

The two casino operators could not be reached for comment yesterday, but RWS said last Friday that it supported the proposed visit limits and would work with the various agencies to implement responsible gambling measures.





Problem gamblers, IRs under scrutiny
Proposed changes include visit limits for gamblers, higher penalties for IRs
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2012

THE law governing the two casinos is being reviewed to further protect vulnerable groups from gambling, and to ensure the two integrated resorts (IRs) remain attractive to tourists.

Proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act include introducing 'visit limits' for financially vulnerable local patrons who go to the casinos frequently.

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) will be empowered to limit the number of times they can visit the casinos, on top of issuing exclusion orders.

Another amendment will see the two operators slapped with maximum penalties of hundreds of millions of dollars if they commit breaches.

Instead of the current penalty cap of $1 million when they are censured by the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA), they could be fined up to 10 per cent of their annual gross gaming revenue. Going by their 2011 financials, this would amount to $269 million for Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) and US$236 million (S$300 million) for Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

The last time the two IRs were penalised was in February. They coughed up a total of $385,000 for allowing 44 people to enter or be in their casinos when they had no business being there.

Laws will also be changed to ensure the IRs remain full-fledged tourist destinations, not just casinos with frills. Casinos will have to continue to develop, maintain and promote themselves as compelling and up-to-date tourist attractions.

To this end, the Minister for Trade and Industry will appoint an Evaluation Panel to give its opinion on whether IRs do so to the CRA, the statutory board overseeing the casinos.



Speaking on the changes yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran said it was timely to take stock of the legislation now that the casinos have been operating for two years. RWS opened in February 2010 while MBS opened two months later.

He noted that the IRs were meant to bring sustained economic benefit to Singapore in terms of creating jobs, adding value to the economy and, specifically, the tourism sector.

'We want to make sure that going forward we have a systematic process to ensure that continues to be the case after the IRs have completed their development,' he said.

'It is also in the interest of the IRs themselves. They want to make sure that their attractions remain compelling for visitors,' added Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Trade and Industry.

If the amendments are passed later this year, more will be done to protect vulnerable groups.

Besides imposing 'visit limits', the NCPG will also have the power to issue exclusion orders on gamblers immediately, instead of having to wait two weeks as is now the case.

Yesterday, both RWS and MBS said that they are committed to running their businesses responsibly and working closely with all stakeholders.

Gaming analysts and consultants see the wide-ranging amendments as the Government pushing the IRs to be more in line with its expectations.

The public can give feedback on the proposed amendments - available on http://www.reach.gov.sg - by writing to mha_cca_consultation@mha.gov.sg by Aug 6.




Visit limit 'tricky to enforce'
Counsellors and MPs note difficulty in defining the 'financially vulnerable'
By Janice Tai and Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2012

WELL-INTENTIONED, but tricky to implement - that was the response of some counsellors and MPs to the proposed move to limit the number of casino visits by the financially vulnerable.

For one thing, what or who do you mean by 'financially vulnerable', they asked.

The proposed changes to the Casino Control Act empower the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) on several fronts.

They not only allow the council to limit the number of casino visits by frequent gamblers, but also let it issue provisional family exclusion orders almost imme-diately.

Under the current Act, the NCPG needs up to two weeks to ban someone without consent.

Further details on these amendments will be announced later.

Counsellors proposed several possible definitions for the term 'financially vulnerable'.

Perhaps those who are undergoing financial counselling or being harassed by loansharks, suggested Ms Jolene Ong, executive director of The Silver Lining, which runs gambling rehabilitation programmes.

What about those who have difficulty paying for basic daily expenses, asked Mr Chan Boon Huat, head of volunteer management and programmes at One Hope Centre.

Bad credit history - that is another indicator, others said.

MP Baey Yam Keng, in summing up the challenges for creating such a database of the financially vulnerable, put it this way: 'People's status would also change from time to time. So how updated the database is... will be key to the implementation.'

The proposed changes come at a time when third party exclusion orders have recently been extended to include those on financial assistance schemes and those paying subsidised rent with arrears.

There are also questions over whether these changes are overly intrusive, and whether the law is being relied on too much to curb excessive gambling.

If the proposed changes are passed, the casinos here will not be the first to enforce visit limits.

For example, the Holland Casino in Amsterdam monitors the frequency of visits of each patron. Visitors aged 18 and above receive warnings on their sixth and 10th visits in a month to alert them to the risks of gambling. If a patron is suspected of having a gambling addiction, the casino may eventually ban or limit his visits.

Casinos Austria has a similar arrangement, as does the Crown Casino in Melbourne, which allows patrons on its loyalty programme to set limits on the time and amount they spend on gambling every day.

Asked what he thought about the proposed changes, MP Vikram Nair said: 'It seems to me that basically, it's an intermediate step between exclusion and free for all.'

Ms Ong noted that there are others, such as housewives and retirees, who are betting away their savings outside the casinos. Such gamblers need as much, if not more, help at intervention.

Mr Chan said that rules and policies are 'mere externalities' that deter gamblers in the short term because they will find creative ways to get around them when the urge kicks in.

'What is key is changing attitudes and the culture where gambling is not seen as a form of recreation,' he said.



Key changes to the rules

THE proposed changes to the Casino Control Act cover five areas. The key changes are:

CRIME
- The list of casino crimes will include 'past posting', in which bets are placed after results are known.
GAMING
- Operators will face fines of up to 10 per cent of their gross gaming revenue. 
- Premium players must draw down on the $100,000 qualifying deposit before credit can be extended to them. 
- The Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) will have the power to place a cap on commissions that operators can pay international market agents.
SOCIAL
- 'Visit limits' will be imposed on 'financially vulnerable' locals who go to the casinos frequently. 
- It will be an offence to evade the casino entry levy or to stay beyond the stipulated 24 hours for those who pay the daily entry levy.
ECONOMIC
- The integrated resorts' economic obligations will be made clear. 
- An evaluation panel to be set up will give input to the CRA when casino licences are being renewed.
TAX
- Laws will be updated to facilitate tax administration. The finance minister will have the power to prescribe the formula to compute net wins.



IRs here could face highest fines ever set
By Ng Kai Ling and Jonathan Kwok, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2012

IF THE proposed amendments to the Casino Control Act are passed, casino operators here will face one of the highest financial penalties ever set by gaming regulators.

The Government wants to raise the maximum penalty for disciplinary action taken by the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) from the current $1 million to 10 per cent of a casino's annual gross gaming revenue.

Based on the two integrated resorts' (IRs) financial reports for last year, this would amount to $269 million for Resorts World Sentosa and US$236 million (S$300 million) for Marina Bay Sands.

Gaming analysts and consultants said that, if passed, the new law would push the IRs to review and improve on processes to ensure that they are always compliant with the rules and regulations.

They also noted that the maximum penalty is higher than those set by established gaming regulators, such as the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation in Queensland, which has a maximum penalty of A$1 million (S$1.3 million).

Phillip Securities Research analyst Magdalene Choong said: 'The onus is on the operators to ensure absolute adherence to regulations.' She added that casinos which incur the penalty could risk some 30 per cent of their net profit.

As currently prescribed in the Act, operators may be penalised for various breaches.

These include failure to properly maintain a casino's surveillance system and allowing entry to those barred from the casinos.

While CRA had, in the past, meted out financial penalties to the two IRs, they have never come close to the maximum $1 million.

In May last year, RWS paid $530,000 in penalties for reimbursing casino entry levies for media representatives and not maintaining its surveillance system to the standards required.

Five months ago, both IRs were rapped for failing to prevent those barred from entering or remaining in their establishments from doing so. MBS had to pay a penalty of $255,000 for letting 24 people in, and RWS paid $130,000 for letting 20 people in.




Three additions under consideration
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2012

SNEAKING in late bets, a common way of cheating at the two Singapore casinos, will be classified as a casino crime under proposed changes to the Casino Control Act.

Two other offences will also be classified separately as casino crimes.

These are:
- Carrying chips worth $10,000 or more outside designated areas. 
Possession of counterfeit chips and the materials to make counterfeit chips, and the unlawful interference with gaming equipment in the casino premises and in any part of Singapore.
Both now come under general offences in the Act.

Explaining the changes yesterday, in response to reporters' questions, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran said: 'We are moving on some of these things more in a pre-emptive, anticipatory manner because we want to ensure that we have the levers in place to keep crime out of the casinos.'

He said crimes in casinos account for a tiny percentage of Singapore crimes, and are not disproportionate in terms of severity.

Since the casinos at Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands opened two years ago, more than 580 cases of casino-related crimes have been reported.

Most are opportunistic, common crimes such as theft and cheating, said a police spokesman.

The theft cases include petty theft and theft of casino chips, while the cheating cases include people using false documents to gain entry into the casinos or trying to cheat at the gambling tables.

One common offence is the placing of bets or topping up bets after the results are known, known as 'past posting'.

Now, it is a cheating offence in the Penal Code. With the changes, it becomes a specific crime under the Casino Control Act.

This year alone, there were at least five reported cases of past posting. The most recent involved Mongolian Khorloo Khaliun, 44, who was fined $4,000 in May for slipping in more chips after seeing his cards in a three-card poker game at Marina Bay Sands casino.




IRs 'should look beyond casinos'
By Lee Xin En, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2012

THE two integrated resorts (IRs) should rely on more than their casinos to attract tourists, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran said yesterday.

They must have 'a menu of other attractions' around the casinos, and these attractions must be maintained at a standard that will continue to attract visitors.

'We are looking with an eye to the future, not about the first two or three years, but about the next 10 or 15 years,' he told reporters while speaking about the amendments to the Casino Control Act.

Proposed changes include setting up an evaluation panel to ensure the IRs continue to develop, maintain and promote themselves as compelling tourist destinations. Details of the panel have not been released.

Industry observers said this move was timely.

Mr Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of tourism industry consultancy Galaviz and Co, said such a panel would allow Singaporeans to communicate to the Government 'the realities of whether the IRs are focusing on tourism development or casino gaming marketing'.

Ms Alicia Seah, senior vice- president of marketing and public relations at CTC Travel, said it was good the Government was stepping in to get IRs to 'step up their game, as using casinos to attract tourists is not sustainable'.

She said that while Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is seen to have done more publicity and rejuvenation of their offerings with a stream of new shows, Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) shows like Voyage de la Vie have been around for a long time.

She also felt that the IRs' attractions were not being publicised enough overseas. 'Singapore is a destination where most attractions are man-made, making publicity crucial,' she said.

Both IRs were quick to point out their stream of new attractions yesterday.

An RWS spokesman said its upcoming Marine Life Park will be the largest oceanarium in the world. MBS said its blockbuster Titanic exhibition was the most well-attended museum exhibition in Singapore ever, with more than 286,000 visitors.


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