Concerted effort by community needed to tackle gambling

Education will be the first line of defence against online gambling, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament.

He admitted he was under no illusion that the Remote Gambling Act, which was passed yesterday, would solve the problem on its own. Instead, it will take a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including family members and the larger community, to keep a lid on the problem.

Many of the 10 MPs who rose to speak offered suggestions on how to curb the problem.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) made an impassioned speech on the need to teach the young on the ills of online gambling from as early as the upper primary level, where it should be part of the curriculum. "We must not wait until university level to start educating our students about gambling," she said.

Other MPs debated on the safeguards that will be put into place when a Singapore-based operator is given a licence to operate a tightly regulated form of online gambling. Many made reference to a 2011 National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) survey, which showed online gamblers were more likely to have poorer self-control.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked which responsible gaming measures that are already used in casinos here - such as exclusion orders - would apply.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) suggested adopting a personalised player card system already used in Sweden and Norway, which limits the amount a punter can bet a day and every month.

An exempt operator running a gambling website here would be a temptation for the gambler as it could operate 24-7, added Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang).

Mr Chan made it clear that exclusion orders will apply equally to an exempt remote gambling operator as they do to casinos. A person can apply for the order to ensure he does not fall into temptation, while family members can also apply on his behalf to prevent harm. Any operator which wants to run online gambling "must prove to us that they have the necessary safeguards in place before we entertain their requests".

Mr Chan also agreed with Ms Lee that awareness programmes at the school level are key, especially as some social games targeted at the young may aim to groom them into gambling online.

He said that NCPG is working with community partners to draw up new education programmes. But these must also teach family members when and how to seek help.

"We must never think that just because we have done a good job in the school, the problem will never emerge in the lifetime of the individual ever again," he said.

Mr Chan stressed the need for the authorities to stay abreast of online gambling technology and to continue to study measures adopted by others in order to refine the control of the problem here.

"The nature of gambling in general and remote gambling in particular is that it is a constantly evolving challenge," he said.

"It is an evergreen challenge that we will have to tackle today, tomorrow and forever."

This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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