Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Singapore the next Las Vegas?

"CLSA estimates gaming revenues will hit US$6.5B (S$8.4B) next year
matching Las Vegas and rise to about US$8.5B" - Straits Times, 28 Dec 2010.

When I visited the Singapore museum a few months ago, I read this
interesting story. In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles left the administration of
Singapore to his deputy, William Farquhar giving him strict instructions on
how to develop the island. When he came back 4 years later, he was
horrified. Farquhar had taken the easy way to economic development by
allowing vices such as gambling dens to spring up to fill govt coffers.
Raffles upset at the economic short cuts taken by his deputy[Read the story
here] sacked him a few years later.
I will keep posting about the casinos because I feel strongly that the harm
it brings will far exceed any benefits. The govt enjoys the tax revenue it
collects from this casinos while churches, temples and social workers are
left to help the the broken families. The problem with the casinos is the
same as cigarettes. When cigarettes were introduced many years ago, its
cancer-causing properties were not known. If cigarettes are invented today,
the authorities would have banned them outright. By the time scientists were
sure that cigarettes cause cancer, millions were already addicted, companies
selling them were rich, powerful and influential and millions of people
dependent on the tobacco industry for jobs.....it becomes difficult to shut
them down. Once the casinos are here, they take up a large amount of
resources that could have been used for productive healthy economic
activities. As the govt becomes dependent on the tax revenue, regulating the
industrial becomes harder due to conflicts of interests - much of the social
wreckage it simply passes to churches & social workers. The NCPG (National
Council on Problem Gambling) has an annual budget of $2.5M[Link] vs the
hundreds of millions the govt collect as tax revenue from this activity vs
the hundreds of millions the casinos spend to entice gamblers to grow its

It has been almost 200 years since Raffles gave strict instructions to his
deputy Farquhar not to allow gambling dens in Singapore. Instinctively, he
knew that the harm caused by gambling will outweigh the short term economic
benefits. When the PAP govt wanted to legalise casino gambling, they sold
the idea by telling us we can easily exclude family members if we find out
they have a problem. Today, families with problem gamblers faced plenty of
red tape[Link] [Link] including the need to get the problem gambler to agree
to the exclusion. We were also told that the main intention of having the
casinos is to create jobs for Singaporeans - but Singapore is not short of
jobs that is why we have hundreds of thousands of foreign workers here. The
actual problem we have is structural unemployment and shortage of good
quality jobs - judging from complaints from Singapore workers at the
casinos, the casino solves neither of these[Link].

"My brother called the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) helpline
and left his contact details. When no reply came, I called a week later,
only to be informed that there were more than 300 applications still waiting
to be processed and a counsellor had to be assigned to each case.

We were told that only one place, the Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre,
processed all applications and the NCPG would start considering a ban only
after it had received a lengthy report of some 24 to 27 pages from the

What's more, the hearing to determine the ban would involve the addicted
gambler as well as the family members to argue their case.

When I sought clarification, such as the need to seek the addicted gambler's
approval in applying for the exclusion, the reply was that those were the

- Casino Exclusion : Family Frustrated by Red Tape[Link]

The PAP govt was just thinking like William Farquhar 200 years ago when they
allowed those casinos to be built - short term economic gains and tax
revenues. Ordinary Singaporeans pay the price for the casinos as social
costs mount.