SINGAPORE - At least 4,000 financially vulnerable gamblers will face a monthly limit on the number of times they can enter the two casinos here from Saturday.
However, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) said yesterday there will be no fixed cap across the board because the circumstances surrounding each gambler are different.
"We don't want people to have this impression that X number of times is OK and that there is a safe limit," said Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.
Instead, the number of times a gambler will be allowed in the Marina Bay Sands or Resorts World Sentosa casinos each month will be determined by factors such as the frequency and pattern of their visits, their credit record, their work situation and information provided by family members.
Mr Chan said the NCPG is taking a "very targeted approach" which will see it tackle the problem "upstream" instead of turning to an outright ban.
But he also cautioned that the visit limit is just an "additional tool in the arsenal" of gambling safeguards as there is no one solution to the complex problem.
Income level is not a criterion because a high-income earner may face as much financial distress as a low-income earner if his gambling habit is out of control, said the NCPG.
Instead, the council has its eyes trained on high-frequency gamblers, who visit the casinos more than six times a month.
The estimated 4,000 to 6,000 financially vulnerable gamblers here account for about 2 per cent to 3 per cent of total visitors. The two casinos drew in some 270,000 gamblers in 2011.
Data on problem gamblers will be provided by the casinos to the council, which will then send those individuals letters requesting them to furnish information on their financial situation.
A Committee of Assessors (COA) - made up of about 70 members from the council and grassroots and social service organisations - will then decide the extent of the visit limit to impose on the gambler and, depending on the situation, may even slap an exclusion order on him.
The individual may object to the visit limit, should he deem it too harsh or have settled his debts by then.
There will be two other types of visit limits - a voluntary one in which the gambler applies his own restrictions, and a family one applied for by immediate family members. In the latter case, the COA will decide whether to issue the visit limit.
Casino visit restrictions already exist in some countries.
The Holland Casino in Amsterdam monitors the frequency of visits of each patron. Casinos Austria and the Crown Casino in Melbourne allow patrons to set limits on the time and amount they spend on gambling every day.
Mr Chan noted that these countries have "varying degrees of success" and that his ministry is studying other measures such as limiting bet amounts.
How the safeguards work
THERE will be three types of casino visit limits under the new social safeguards, following changes to the Casino Control Act in November last year.
These limits, applying only to Singaporeans and permanent residents, will cap the number of times an individual can visit the casinos in a month.
1. VOLUNTARY VISIT LIMIT
Individuals may voluntarily apply to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), either online or in person at the council's office, to limit their own visits to up to eight times per month.
2. FAMILY VISIT LIMIT
Immediate family members may call the NCPG helpline to limit a relative's visits. They must prove that the person has neglected the family due to their gambling habits.
A Committee of Assessors, appointed by the NCPG, will decide whether to issue the visit limit, or refer the gambler to go for counselling, rehabilitation and special education sessions.
The whole process of obtaining a visit limit is likely to take up to two weeks, although an interim visit limit can be brought about within a few days if there is an urgent need.
The voluntary visit limit and family visit limit can be revoked after a year if there is any change in the gambler's circumstances.
3. THIRD-PARTY VISIT LIMIT
The committee may send letters to those found to have poor credit reports and are at risk financially to get statements to prove their financial situation.
It can then decide whether to impose the limit on the individual, who may object to it. The limit will depend on each gambler's circumstances.
Those slapped with the visit limit may also be required to go for counselling, rehabilitation and education sessions.
The third-party visit limit may be revoked at any time if there is any change in the gambler's circumstances.
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