Nov 16, 2012

Singapore - Government fully committed to contain social impact of gambling, says Iswaran

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SINGAPORE: Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S Iswaran has said the government is fully committed to contain the social impact of gambling.

He said there's an ongoing review of the regulatory framework and social safeguards for non-casino gambling, including gambling via online channels.

This will include studying carefully developments in other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom before drawing up the framework.

Mr Iswaran was addressing concerns raised by MPs as Parliament debated the amendments to the Casino Control Bill on Friday.

One key amendment is the introduction of new social safeguards in the form of a visit limit to the two casinos in Singapore.

Mr Iswaran said Singapore already has one of the world's most extensive social safeguards regime. It will continue to stay vigilant and ensure that vulnerable segments of society continue to be protected from the harms of gambling.

He said the value proposition of the Integrated Resorts is the economic benefits they bring and their roles in making Singapore a vibrant and dynamic economy. The two IRs also aim to create real opportunities for Singaporeans and Singapore companies.

Mr Iswaran said: "We want the IRs to continue to reinvest and upgrade their attractions and facilities, stay ahead of regional competitors, and remain compelling world-class tourist destinations. This way, they will create jobs for Singaporeans, attract more tourists and increase business opportunities for local SMEs.

Singaporean citizens, he said, comprise about 80 per cent of the IRs' local employees.

Singaporeans hold jobs in all areas of the IRs' operations. These range from positions in theme park operations in Universal Studios Singapore, to marine specialists at the RWS Marine Life Park, to education programme managers at MBS ArtScience Museum and RWS Maritime Experiential Museum (MEM). It was estimated that the IRs would generate about 20,000 direct jobs and between 50,000 and 60,000 jobs economy-wide by 2015.

Mr Iswaran assured that the government pursues a broad-based growth strategy and there is no risk of the economy becoming dependent on gaming.

He said the two IRs, including their non-gaming components, contribute only about 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent of Singapore's Gross Domestic Product.

The 22,400 employees employed by the IRs comprise about 0.7 per cent of the total labour force. The gaming taxes comprise a small fraction of government revenues.

In FY 2011, after taking into account the net increase in tax, revenues due to the IR casinos was $1.1 billion, 2.2 per cent of total government operating revenue.

The government also wants to minimise the adverse social impact of casinos - and so social safeguards will now include a visit limit to the two casinos. Before a visit limit is issued, the National Council on Problem Gambling's Committee of Assessors will consider factors such as an individual's credit history and financial situation.

It will also take into account information provided by family members during the process. Based on unique circumstances of each case, NCPG will work with family members during the application process to help them determine if an exclusion order or visit limit will be more appropriate.

Some MPs were concerned that a visit limit could lead to an increase in gambling intensity and if a limit on gambling expenditure could be introduced.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said personal responsibility is also key.

"We do not want to end up in a situation where people psychologically pass their personal responsibility to the State. That is if the State limits my gambling to N visits or X amount, then I am safe to gamble within that limit without due consideration of my own personal circumstances, or to control my gambling behaviour, or to monitor the consequences upon myself and my family," he said.

There were calls for the annual entry levy of $2,000 to casinos to be scrapped. But figures showed that only about one per cent of the total number of entry levies purchased by locals were annual entry levies. The annual levy is $2,000, while the daily entry levy is $100.

- CNA/de

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