SINGAPORE : Casino operators in Singapore are expected to do more to promote responsible gaming.
This comes as the government announced on Thursday that it is studying "circuit breakers" employed by casinos in Holland, Austria and Australia. Circuit breakers are safeguards targeted at gamblers with poor self control.
However, there are differing opinions as to whether such measures will work and if the onus should be on authorities to mandate the safeguards, or on the casinos to implement them.
It has been two years since the two casinos opened in Singapore, and authorities are still studying how best to deal with the social fallout.
Taking its cue from three countries, Singapore is considering circuit breakers such as getting casinos to form a dedicated team of counsellors to help problem gamblers, registering all casino guests to red flag repeat visitors who gamble excessively, and empowering casinos to ban compulsive gamblers.
The Community Development, Youth and Sports Ministry said it is studying casinos in Holland, Austria and Australia because they have circuit breakers that curb excessive gambling, especially among the financially vulnerable.
"Holland Casino and Casinos Austria practise visitor registration and assess if gamblers who visit frequently are at risk of incurring harm to themselves. If they think that there is harm, they may decide to impose visit limits or exclude the gambler from the casinos.
"Crown Casino runs a Responsible Gaming Support Centre staffed by trained professionals who offer support, counselling and referral services to gamblers in distress. They also have Play Safe limits which essentially help gamblers to voluntarily set limits in terms of time and betting amounts," said a spokesperson from the ministry.
But the countries differ in how they implement the safeguards. In Austria and Holland, casinos are required by law to impose circuit breakers, while in Australia, it is voluntary.
Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing, said: "My preference is for everyone to work together to manage the gambling issue. Of course, you start at the centre, with the gambler himself or herself; we hope that the individual will take the responsibility but at the same time, we recognise that the problem arises because some individuals are unable to control themselves.
"Then the next concentric circle of help that we hope to achieve is through the family and the immediate relatives that can provide them with the support to manage some of these behaviour. Failing which, then the next circle of help will come in to include third-party exclusions...
"So I think going forward, we will evolve a model whereby the help will come not just from the social organisations but also the casino operators working in concert with government agencies like MCYS. I think that will be the most effective way that we can have this partnership, going forward."
Observers like gaming consultant Jonathan Galaviz said the examples being studied must be relevant to the Singapore environment, culturally and in terms of the gaming and tourism market share.
However, there are concerns that if the onus is on the casinos to implement the measures, it may not be as effective.
Denise Phua, deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said: "The objectives of the casino operators and the government are quite different. So the onus will be more on the leaders of this country and ourselves the citizens to make sure that this is a country that is shaped the way we want it."
Mr Galaviz, chief economist at Galaviz & Company LLC, said: "There is a spectrum of opinions on this, from a very rigid to a very robust regulatory regiment to a more laissez-faire libertarian approach, which is more of a government hands-off approach.
"My view is that it is critical and important for the government to play a role in understanding how the issue of problem gambling is really one of a medical issue, an addiction issue that has a lot of research and science behind it, and it is important for the government to look into that research and science in coming up with solutions to address the issue of problem gambling. The biggest problem comes about when the issue of problem gambling is just met with regulations and rules that do not really align very well with what research has shown".
Mr Galaviz added that the government should step in only if it is clear that the casino operator is not responsible to the community.
"If the private sector is irresponsible, then it becomes incumbent on the government and the government regulators and policy makers to become more strict in how they enforce and how they make that responsibility happen," he said.
Chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Seah Kian Peng, agrees, saying that if the issue of problem gambling, especially among the lower income, persists despite measures put in place by the casinos, then the government may have to step in to mandate the safeguards.
"Ideally, it would be good if the casinos do it first. Of course one would argue that - is it in their interest to do so? I am sure all these casinos would also promote responsible gambling. They all believe in contributing back to the community. So I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the casinos to do this first. Failing which, if we need to take a more drastic step, and mandate it through legislation, that I think we can set it. But even then, I think we need to ensure that the community and general public are supportive of such a stance," said Mr Seah.
Currently, safeguards that are mandated by the government come in the form of a S$100 daily levy, or a S$2,000 annual fee, which Singaporeans and Permanent Residents must pay to enter the casinos.
Bankrupts and those on the Public Assistance Scheme are also automatically barred from entry.
Both casinos in Singapore allow patrons to place "loss limits". This means someone who feels he may be at risk can choose on the amount he is prepared to lose. Once he hits that, he can no longer place bets. However, this loss limit scheme is not mandated by law.
Both casinos did not want to disclose the number of people who volunteered to put themselves on this loss limit.
A ministry spokesperson added that while it cites the examples of casinos from Austria, Australia and Holland, it also looks at the regulatory and policy frameworks of the jurisdictions these casinos operate in.
The spokesperson said the level of commitment shown by operators towards responsible gaming will set the tone and tenor for regulators. Both casino operators - Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) and Marina Bay Sands - have also said that they are committed to working with authorities to promote responsible gaming.
A spokesperson from RWS said: "RWS works closely with the authorities and external gambling addiction experts on its training programme. Our casino team members - both gaming and others such as F&B employees on the casino floor - are given structured responsible gambling training.
"Depending on their roles, employees are trained to refer patrons who seek counselling services. RWS supports the government initiatives to advocate responsible gambling. We have a team of senior management in the Responsible Gambling Committee, which spearheads our Responsible Gambling programme and reports on its progress."