Sunday 19 August 2012

Casino visit curbs may turn into bans

Govt considering exclusion orders for the vulnerable who gamble more
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2012

FIRST, their visits to the casinos could be crimped if a key proposed amendment to the casino law is passed.

Now, these "financially vulnerable" punters could even be barred from entering the casinos if they are found to gamble even more because of the limits placed on their visits.

The Government is currently considering this further measure to protect such punters from the ills of gambling.

It follows public concern that the proposed visit limit could drive punters to wager higher stakes or stay longer in the casino to make the most of the number of visits allowed.

Last month, the Government proposed, among other things, that a visit limit be imposed on the financially vulnerable.

A month-long consultation exercise was launched and almost 40 letters were sent to the feedback portal Reach. Four dialogue sessions were also held by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

Responding to public concerns, the Government yesterday said that people whose gambling habits intensified would be reassessed by the NCPG.

"If individuals intensify their gambling while on a visit limit, NCPG's Committee of Assessors will reassess and impose casino exclusion orders if warranted," said Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports in a press statement.

But the number of people who could be excluded is expected to be small.

While the proposed amendments cut across various aspects such as casino-related crime and the need to maintain the integrated resorts (IRs) as tourism products, most of the feedback was on measures to keep problem gambling to a minimum.

Many urged the Government to look into imposing similar measures for other forms of gambling, such as betting on horses or jackpots in private clubs.

Some also suggested including mandatory counselling for all those placed under casino exclusion or visit limit.

The public also asked that the casino operators play a bigger role and suggested that casinos have counselling booths or "cooling-off" rooms.

In response, NCPG chairman Lim Hock San said the council would work towards having regular forums where community leaders and operators involved in all forms of gambling could look into ways to ensure responsible gambling.

The NCPG is also providing legal and financial advice at three of its family centres.

On the subject of crime, the Government reiterated that law and order had not been affected since the casinos opened in 2010.

In 2010 and last year, casino-related crime - mostly theft cases - made up less that 1 per cent of overall crime.

Instances of unlicensed moneylending activity also fell by about 20 per cent from 16,834 cases in 2010 to 13,342 cases last year because of an increase in enforcement.

The idea of an evaluation panel to assess the overall performance of the integrated resorts was also well received.

Many who responded on the portal said that the resorts need to constantly develop and promote their non-gaming components to remain attractive to tourists.

In response to public feedback asking the Government to ensure that Singaporeans benefit from jobs at the IRs, the Government pointed out that Singaporeans and permanent residents comprise the bulk of the IRs' 22,000 employees.

The Government said it would consider all feedback when finalising changes. Its target is to table the amended Bill in Parliament at the end of the year.

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