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Fewer Singapore residents gambling; number of potential problem gamblers remains low: Survey

SINGAPORE: Fewer Singapore residents are gambling, while the number of potential pathological and problem gamblers remains low, according to a survey released on Thursday (Jul 29) by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). 

The 2020 Gambling Participation Survey found that 44 per cent of respondents gambled, down from 52 per cent in 2017.

The overall probable problem and pathological gambling rate was 1.2 per cent, compared to 0.9 per cent in 2017.

The survey, conducted once every three years, also showed that the median monthly betting amounts of gamblers fell from S$30 in 2017 to S$15 in 2020, with 89 per cent of gamblers betting S$100 or less per month.

A total of 3,000 Singapore residents aged 18 and above were interviewed using a structured questionnaire between February and December last year, with measures to ensure representativeness.

The survey achieved a response rate of 62 per cent, lower than the 77 per cent who responded for the 2017 survey. “Amidst COVID-19 restrictions, a larger number of potential respondents rejected participation,” NCPG explained.

The survey questionnaire was revised in June 2020 to ask respondents about their gambling behaviour in 2019, instead of the last 12 months, to minimise the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on their reported gambling behaviour. 

“Nonetheless, restrictions on gambling activities during the period of survey may still have affected responses,” NCPG said in a media release on Thursday. “This may partly explain the lower reported gambling participation rate of 44 per cent for the 2020 survey.”

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The survey figures come as the Ministry of Home Affairs said on Jul 12 it is proposing to amend gambling laws focusing on online games with virtual items that can be transferred out and potentially be exchanged for money.

The survey does not cover such games.

READ: ‘I spent $20,000 of my parents’ money on mystery boxes’: When lines between gaming and gambling are blurred

NCPG chairman Tan Kian Hoon said that the council will work with the Government to study gambling-related developments and help strengthen the protection of those vulnerable to the harms of gambling.

“To mitigate the risks of online gambling and gambling risks in electronic games, especially amid the pandemic, the NCPG will be stepping up our public education efforts on the risk of problem gambling,” he said.

GAMBLING PARTICIPATION RATE

For the 2020 survey, 44 per cent of respondents said they had participated in at least one form of gambling activity. Figures fell from 2017 across most demographic groups and gambling products such as 4D, TOTO and social gambling.

Most gamblers said they started when they were 18 to 24 years old, similar to findings from the 2017 survey.

Gambling participation rates by type of gambling product. (Table: National Council on Problem Gambling)

4D remained the most popular gambling product, followed by TOTO, Singapore Sweep and social gambling.

In 2020, 0.3 per cent of respondents said they participated in online gambling compared to 1 per cent in 2017. This category refers to illegal betting sites.

PROBLEM GAMBLING

The 2020 survey showed that 1 per cent of gamblers were probable problem gamblers, while 0.2 per cent were probable pathological gamblers. Pathological gamblers are considered to have a more severe form of gambling addiction.

Probable pathological and problem gamblers were identified based on their responses to screening questions from an internationally established diagnostic tool.

The diagnostic criteria covers factors like tolerance, which refers to gambling with increasing amounts of money to achieve desired excitement, as well as withdrawal, which points to restlessness or irritability when trying to cut down on or stop gambling.

The median monthly betting amount among probable and pathological gamblers was S$100 in 2020, up from S$89 in 2017.

WATCH: More problem gamblers seeking help as betting outlets, casinos resume operations

Families and the community play an important role in encouraging problem gamblers to seek help early, said Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli in a media release.

“Amid emerging gambling products and risks, we must and will continue to protect individuals and their families from the harms of problem gambling - especially those who are more vulnerable,” he added. 

AVERAGE MONTHLY BETTING AMOUNT

Still, most gamblers in the 2020 survey said they spent an average of S$100 and below a month on wagers, regardless of their monthly income.

Only 0.3 per cent of gamblers had an average monthly betting amount of more than S$1,000. Respondents in this group have a monthly personal income of S$4,000 and above.

The survey did not break down the monthly betting amounts by gambling product.

WATCH: Social safeguards may not be enough to deter hardcore gambling addicts: Experts

Nevertheless, it showed that the proportion of gamblers with poor self-control in gambling tends to be high in sports betting as well as table games in cruises or outside Singapore.

Gambling self-control was assessed by asking the gambler whether he or she gambled more than planned, in terms of having gambled for a longer period of time, with more money and more frequency.

READ: New gambling regulator, legislation to be established by 2021​​​​​​​

NCPG noted that the survey as a study tool can only capture “self-professed” behaviour rather than actual behaviour.

“Social desirability may also have led to under-reporting of gambling participation and effects of problem gambling as the survey touched on sensitive gambling habits and family relations,” it said.

“To mitigate this, surveyors were asked to assure interviewees about the strict confidentiality of individual responses at two prescribed junctures of the interview.”

Those who wish to seek help for their gambling habits can call the national problem gambling helpline at 1800 6 668 668 or use the WebChat service at www.ncpg.org.sg.

Source: CNA/hz(gs)

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