Will casino opt-in proposal work?

A SUGGESTION in Parliament last week to have Singaporeans automatically excluded from the casinos unless they opt in has drawn mixed views.

Social workers and religious groups in support of the proposal said this makes it harder for people to go casually into the casino and fall into gambling addiction.

But others thought the current $100 levy per entrance was enough to deter casual gamblers.

Mr O. P. Rai, president of the Hindu Arya Samaj Temple, said: "It acts as a hindrance... If (people) forget to opt in, they can't go in, so there is a bit of control. Right now you just pay $100 and get in."

Most of those interviewed agreed the preventive move will work more for casual gamblers than addicts, such as "people who have never gone into a casino, those people who have not started gambling", said Mr Billy Lee, founder and executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services, which runs a recovery centre for gamblers.

It could prevent more from becoming problem gamblers by making it hard for them to enter the casino in the first place.

"Getting into addiction is very easy... but putting a stop to it is very, very difficult. Prevention is better than cure and this measure can address not just problem gamblers but the community at large," said Mr Dick Lum, executive director of One Hope Centre, a voluntary welfare organisation which counsels gamblers.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua, who had raised the opt-in option, said "it makes sense to make 'not gambling' a default position", given that the Government does not want gambling to be seen as desirable.

"I think it sends a signal," she told The Straits Times, pointing to the Human Organ Transplant Act, where the default position is to donate one's organs to save another's life unless one opts out.

Her suggestion comes amid signs that problem gambling has worsened.

ST reported last month that One Hope Centre saw 523 addicts seeking counselling in 2013, nearly double the 2012 figure, and Blessed Grace Social Services saw a 20 per cent increase in addicts from 2013 to last year.

Not all are for the opt-in measure though. Like Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, they note that the entrance levy is already a form of opting in.

Mr Kuo How Nam, president of Credit Counselling Singapore, agreed with Mr Chan.

"Besides, gambling is not just at our casinos but it takes many other forms which are freely available in Singapore, such as betting with Singapore Pools, Internet gambling and horse racing," he added.


This article was first published on Jan 27, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.