S’poreans mull issues accompanying rise of problem gambling

Are the social problems caused by gambling inevitable?

Can problem gambling be controlled by stricter regulations?

What else can the government do to curb the steady rise of problem gambling in Singapore?

These were some questions asked by Yahoo! Singapore users after a commentary suggested that the government's policy to develop the two casinos could be a "failed" one, from a citizen-centric point of view.

While many blamed the government for the accumulating unhappiness among Singaporeans since the opening of the two integrated resorts last year, there was also a cluster that felt that it could not be avoided.

Yahoo! reader 'Desmond' found it ludicrous that people are actually complaining about the casinos' presence since it is one's own choice whether to enter or not.

"It's merely a supply for the greed demand; people are lazy and are simply greedy, and everyone knows that greed is self, no one has the right to tell you what to do; you simply walked in and gamble, is it the government's fault for putting it there?" he questioned.

"No one ask(ed) you to gamble," agreed another Yahoo! user 'Rumour'. "You have only yourself to blame if you don't have self control. People will still visit Genting or the gambling ship even (without) the 2 casinos open here."

A reader called 'V' added that "gambling is a personal decision made by the weak".

"If you are dumb enough to gamble, you also fully deserved the consequences if you either win or lose," he said. "Gambling is for the people who can afford to lose, not the average person… If you don't know if you can control yourself, don't go gambling. It is so simple!"

However, many also recognised that "responsible gambling" is not as simplified as it seems.

Explained 'Sawadi88', "It is obvious the poor/lower income is trying hard to strive out to get rich or strike a little jackpot to pay their bills (because) they have no other way out."

"Gambling addiction is not controllable once you get hooked, don't even try to convince me otherwise," said another user, 'Bong'. "I have seen enough broken families due to compulsive gambling."

Added reader 'Chow Chow', who have also seen well-educated friends fall into the lure of the cards, "The casino really made Singapore rich, however, it made Singaporeans poorer."

"Post-casino Singapore has seen a rise in suicides, loan sharking activities, bankruptcies, and tragedies… Of course, responsible gambling is always the best solution, but how many people can do that?"

On Thursday, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said it is prepared to strengthen social safeguards to protect Singaporeans from problem gambling.

Among other measures, the MCYS intends to expand its list of third-party casino exclusion orders to cover more groups of Singaporeans who are receiving financial assistance, beyond those who are bankrupt and on public assistance allowance.

The ministry's statement comes on the back of a 2011 survey conducted by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) which highlighted a worrying trend of heavy gambling among low-income Singapore residents.

This group, made up of Singaporeans and PRs who earn a monthly income of less than S$2,000, bet an average of more than S$1,000 a month.

The figure has also increased from 0.8 per cent of those surveyed in 2008 to 2 per cent last year.

The survey on participation in gambling activities among Singapore residents also raised emerging concerns including frequent gamblers, and poorer self-control among online, horse racing and casino gamblers.

The findings also revealed that the overall probable pathological and problem gambling (PPG) rates for Singapore residents has not changed significantly over the years.

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

Highlighting several focal areas for NCPG after the latest survey, chairman Lim Hock San said "We must continue to help problem gamblers overcome their problem."

"While we continue to educate the public on the dangers of problem gambling, we must also ensure that there are adequate services in the community to help those who are addicted to gambling."