Curb excesses in a measured way


Proposals for "targeted measures on liquor sale and consumption" and for steps to curb online gaming might seem like a swing towards social conservatism to the casual observer.

However, the separate moves are really responses to on-the-ground developments. These warrant a review of the existing controls that acknowledge both the impulses of a cosmopolitan city and the wariness of communities towards the ills of alcohol and gambling.

There are always sections of society that see alcohol as a social affliction and tend to argue for a robust regulatory approach as it is more a law and order issue than a mere nuisance.

Public drinking in certain places like Robertson Quay and Little India have been associated with noise, rowdiness, congestion, littering, vomiting and sporadic fighting. These have led to calls to curb alcohol sales in certain areas during specific periods.

Many would not like to see public drinking at HDB void decks, playgrounds or carparks. This list and suggested penalties for infringement could easily grow should moral arguments gather momentum, as seen elsewhere.

In South Australia, for example, no- alcohol zones have been extended to main shopping areas as well and offenders can be fined up to A$1,250 (S$1,429). Should organisers of pop-up events here fear having to embrace teetotalism if plazas and other spaces are targeted?

A practical approach should be adopted so the city's attractiveness to tourists and residents alike is not unduly crimped. An abundance of prohibition signs - red circles with diagonal lines across - at every corner makes for a fine city in only a sardonic sense.

Unlike public drinking, online gambling is more resistant to regulation. Blocking access to gambling websites and preventing the use of credit and debit cards for payment can both be circumvented.

Despite this, efforts should be taken to help prevent addiction to such gaming. Online gamblers were more prone to gambling frequently and over longer periods than other punters, according to a 2011 survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling. They consequently lost more than planned.

Worryingly, this form of gambling can hook younger people who are more adept in using the Internet and mobile apps.

Restrictions, therefore, are justified.

But on balance, it would be productive for discussions on public drinking and online gaming to also examine allowing some avenues for such activities rather than blanket bans.

This is to prevent these from being driven underground and to allow responsible users a chance to unwind socially and to have a flutter privately. Responsibility should be inculcated, not just legislated.

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