Gamblers cool to self-ban scheme

A VOLUNTARY scheme which allows Singaporeans to bar themselves from a range of gambling venues, besides the two casinos, is off to a slow start.

From the start of the scheme in May till December last year, about 650 people applied online to be banned from gambling venues such as jackpot rooms.

The number also includes those who want to suspend themselves from having remote betting accounts with major operators such as Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club.

Counsellors from voluntary welfare organisations which help gamblers say the number of sign-ups could have been better.

"Given the hundreds of thousands of people who bet at Singapore Pools, Turf Club or other private clubs, 650 is not a lot," said Mr Billy Lee, founder of Blessed Grace Social Services, which runs a support group for gamblers.

In comparison, twice that number - or 1,360 - self-exclusion applications were received just four months after the first casino opened in 2010.

The combined gross revenue of Singapore Pools and Turf Club for their last financial year was $2.43 billion - about a third of that of the two casinos in 2013.

Counsellors says more needs to be done to encourage people to sign up for the scheme. This would include actively suggesting it to those they counsel and the next-of-kin of problem gamblers.

Experts say the low take-up rate for the scheme could be a result of the limited number of gambling venues and operators the scheme currently covers.

The 24 operators who are part of the schemeaccount for only a third of the 73 operators who run 93 jackpot clubs here.

Those who physically place bets at Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club outlets are also not covered under the scheme.

When asked why, a spokesman for the Responsible Gambling Forum said it is not feasible to have the ban applied to those who go to the retail outlets, race course or betting centres.

"This is because physical betting at such outlets may be done by proxy when someone purchases bets on another's behalf, unlike jackpot rooms or casinos where the patron must be present to gamble," he said.

And most private clubs, said the Responsible Gambling Forum, have an electronic or manual gantry system which allows operators to check members' details before entry.

While the number of those who have excluded themselves in this system is small, counsellors say having this option is still helpful.

"About half of our clients are hooked on jackpot machines so there's a need for this," said Ms Jolene Ong, chairman of The Silver Lining which runs gambling support groups.

This article was first published on Mar 16, 2015.
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