Friday 27 September 2013

Most local residents give casinos a miss

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2013

THREE years after the two casinos opened, 7.7 per cent of adult local residents have made more than one visit to either.

The "vast majority" of the remaining 92.3 per cent - both Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) - did not go at all, said the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) in its latest annual report. It did not give absolute numbers.

Making these figures public for the first time, it said the number of visits by Singaporeans and PRs had also fallen since the casinos opened. They made a daily average of 17,000 visits last year, down from 20,000 in 2010.

This is likely due to the novelty of the casinos wearing off, CRA chairman Richard Magnus said in his foreword. Stringent safeguards - particularly the $100 entry levy - were cited as another factor.

A total of $174 million from both daily and annual entry levies was collected last year, a dip from $216 million in 2010.

Gaming analysts pointed to the strong social safeguards in place that keep local residents away.

"No other major gaming market has such a punitive entry levy - most have no levy - so it is not surprising that local visitation would decline," said analyst Grant Govertsen of Las Vegas-based Union Gaming Group.

The analysts estimated that the percentage of local patronage is comparable to that of other gaming jurisdictions. For example, about 7 per cent of the adult population in Britain visited a casino in the past 12 months, said Global Betting and Gaming Consultants chief executive Warwick Bartlett.

No data was available from the markets in Macau or Las Vegas.

While the Singapore figure may seem low, analysts say it sheds little light on the extent of problem gambling, which is a bigger concern. The CRA did not give a breakdown on the number of times this group of local residents visited a casino.

"It would be more meaningful to have the actual breakdown of the frequency of casino visits because those who visit more frequently are more likely to run into problems," said psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, who counsels gambling addicts.

But findings from a large-scale gambling participation survey conducted in 2011 showed that 1.2 per cent of 3,315 Singapore residents polled were "probable problem gamblers". It also identified a growing group of low-income gamblers who bet large amounts.

Casino crime also dropped from 1 per cent of total crime in 2010 to 0.7 per cent last year, said the CRA report.

Over the past few years, the CRA and the Ministry of Social and Family Development have implemented a slew of measures, such as entry levies, exclusion orders and, most recently, visit limits, to keep the casinos a draw mainly for tourists.

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