The nicest money lenders in Singapore

SINGAPORE - YOU have just lost $100,000 at the baccarat table and are down to your last chip.

But you're feeling lucky and think you can recoup your losses. Or maybe even go home with winnings in hand.

If you are among the handful of premium players at the two casinos here, getting that extra $100,000 on loan to gamble can be as easy as raising your hand, claims Mr Wang, a businessman in his 40s.

Mr Wang, a member at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), told The New Paper that borrowing money in the VIP rooms - exclusive areas where the well-heeled and high-flying CEOs come to play - is "easy to get and happens often, as long as you are a premium member and you qualify for the loans".

Casino loans to gamblers were put in the spotlight last week after the High Court delivered its judgment in Singapore's first casino debt case.

Under the Casino Control Act, a patron qualifies as a premium player of the casino when he opens a deposit account with the casino operator. To join, these premium players, or whales, must have at least a $100,000 account with the casino.

This gives them access to the 35 VIP rooms in the Paiza area of MBS, where big money is won or lost by these players.

Mr Wang - a businessman in his 40s who lives in a bungalow in the Katong area - paid $100,000 to join this exclusive club.

But he declined to say when he made this payment because he does not want to be identified.

Mr Wang's preferred game is Baccarat, where the minimum bet at the VIP rooms is $500 and the maximum is $750,000.

Most patrons there wagered between $2,000 and $5,000 for each game, he said.

Compared with the tables where ordinary members play, the mood at the Paiza is intense. Credit line

But when your chips are down, loans are available. All you have to do is apply for a credit line, he said.

Under the Casino Control Act, the operator can extend credit to Singaporeans or permanent residents only if they are premium players.

Both casino operators MBS and Resorts World Sentosa declined to comment on the credit it extends to its patrons.

However, Mr Wang claimed that if you find yourself short on cash during a game, all you need to do is ask either the croupier or pit boss.

"To get the loan, you sign an agreement to pay on demand, after which you will receive chips," he said.

TNP understands that credit is usually extended to patrons after they and the casino sign a written agreement stating the player's maximum credit limit and other terms and conditions.

Sometimes, they also have to hand over cheques to the casino as security.

While the specifics of such loans are not known, the recent MBS suit against Mr Lester Ong Boon Lin revealed that the loan agreement includes an interest-free period of 90 days after the loan's payment date. A 12 per cent rate is applied if the payment is not done after this time.

Mr Wang said providing premium players with credit is "a good system to have actually, because there are times when your chips may be down and you may not have enough cash to continue playing."

"While those who apply for loans aren't those who can't afford to gamble, not every premium player's loan request is approved on the spot," he said.

"If the casino thinks you're not good for it, then most likely the casino will not extend you any credit. For me, if I do take credit and win the game, I usually pay back the amount at the end of the game. Most of the other gamblers I know pay promptly too," said Mr Wang.

But he claims that he has seen rich men "throw tantrums" when their loans are not approved.

Said Mr Wang: "But the way I see it, it's only logical - why should the casino offer you credit when they know they cannot recover it?"

For those who can't afford to pay up, the good news is they don't have to worry about debt collectors showing up at their workplace.

Defaulters can end up in court

THOSE who borrow from authorised moneylenders might fall prey to aggressive measures when it comes to debt collection, such as having debt collectors harassing them at their homes or workplace.

But when you borrow from casinos and fail to pay back, expect the process to be played out in court, lawyers told The New Paper.

Lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, from law firm Peter Low LLC, said casinos here would rely on their lawyers and the legal process to recover debts from gamblers.

Casinos, he said, are also unlikely to rely on aggressive tactics because "they can afford" to take the legal route when it comes to recovering the debts. Also, there is a risk of hurting their reputation if they resort to using debt collectors to recover their cash, said Mr Choo.

Explaining the debt recovery process, Mr Choo said the casinos "would first send the letter of demand of the amount outstanding. Then subsequently you do a writ of summons to initiate proceedings."

According to lawyer Foo Cheow Ming, when a casino here begins its debt recovery process, it will start by sending the debtor a letter of demand.

Harry Elias Partnership, the law firm representing Marina Bay Sands, is currently handling 35 other gambling debt collection cases for the casino, reported Business Times.

MBS wins case against debtor

THE first casino debt collection court case in Singapore allowed Marina Bay Sands (MBS) to recover the $240,000 it extended as credit to Mr Lester Ong Boon Lin, 33.

Mr Ong contested MBS' claim by arguing he was not a "premium player" under the law and that MBS breached casino regulations in giving him credit.

But in a 30-page judgment released last Tuesday, High Court Judge Lai Siu Chiu ruled that Mr Ong was a premium player and MBS had complied with the rules.

Under the Casino Control Act, operators can extend credit to Singaporeans or permanent residents only if they are premium players.

A premium player is one who "maintains a deposit account with the casino operator with a credit balance of not less than $100,000 before the commencement of play".

zothman@sph.com.sg

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