Janice Tai & Cheryl Ong – Straits Times Indonesia
Some go to the casinos to strike it rich, but a 58-year-old kitchen supervisor said he does so only in the hope of winning enough to pay off his debts.
Already “tens of thousands” in debt to banks and credit card companies for loans and advances he took to cover his horse and 4-D betting losses, he started going to casinos out of desperation.
The married man, who did not want his name to be published, only dug himself into a deeper hole with fresh gambling debts.
“After a while, you realize the hole just becomes a bottomless pit,” said the man, who now seeks help at One Hope Centre, a major volunteer group dealing with people hooked on gaming.
Calls have been made for more to be done to prevent people like him – the financially vulnerable – from sinking deeper into debt at the casinos.
Counsellors, welfare group representatives and MPs The Straits Times spoke to suggested imposing exclusion orders to keep such individuals out of the casinos.
Aside from those in debt, they also called for those with bad credit records or who are receiving financial aid from the Government to be kept out as well.
But all were against imposing a blanket entry ban on low-income Singaporeans.
MP Lee Bee Wah said she thought it fair for those receiving financial aid from the Government or who have bad credit histories to be excluded from the casinos.
But to the idea of a blanket ban on those below a certain income level, she said: “They need to decide for themselves. It doesn’t mean if you have higher income, you won’t get into trouble. You just play with bigger stakes.”
MP Seah Kian Peng, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports, is also in favor of people making their own decisions.
“We are not saying you cannot go to the casinos. But opt out if you want to. This is something the committees might want to look into,” he said.
Counsellors and MPs also pointed out the current safeguards already in place:
First, individuals can apply for self-exclusion, or their family members can ask for them to be barred.
Third-party exclusion at the moment covers only undischarged bankrupts and individuals getting public assistance from the Government.
As of the end of September, 28,600 people were serving this exclusion order.
Second, information on any individual’s credit history is available to banks and other financial institutions in a database maintained by a credit bureau.
MP Denise Phua, also speaking against a blanket ban on low-income individuals, suggested that the bureau release information on a confidential basis, so exclusion orders can be enforced on those with poor credit records.
She did note, however, that residents who sought her help with gambling-related problems were mainly low-income earners.
Reverend Tan Lye Keng, the executive director of One Hope Centre, said low-income gamblers – typically men earning less than $2,000 – made up the majority of those seeking help from the group.
More newcomers fitting this profile have joined the centre in the last few months, he added.
Prem Kumar, the program director of We Care Community Services, said of its low-income clients with gambling problems: “Their psychology is such that, coming from a background where they lack many things, they think the fastest way out of their problem is to get rich by staking it all.”
It was disclosed in Parliament last month that more people with gambling problems have turned up at the Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre and National Addictions Management Service.
In just the first eight months of this year, 568 people sought help, a spike from the 304 for the whole of 2008.
Neither centre was able to offer a profile of those who turned to them for help.
Charles Lee, who oversees the counseling for problem gamblers at the Tanjong Pagar centre, said raising awareness of the problems of gambling is more crucial than imposing exclusion orders, because banning the financially vulnerable from casinos “is like banning alcoholics from nightspots.”
“The important issue is to get them out of denial and help them recognize that they have a problem,” he added.
A spokesman for the National Council on Problem Gambling declined to say whether the existing third-party exclusion rule would be broadened.
This is because safeguards such as self-exclusion orders are already in place.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.