Nov 16, 2012

Singapore - Parliament passes Casino Control Bill

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SINGAPORE: Parliament has passed amendments to the Casino Control Bill.

Wrapping up the debate which began on Thursday, Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran acknowledged the strong and diverse views expressed by members.

He said the government had made the commitment to put in place a strong regulatory framework when they had decided to go ahead with the Integrated Resorts, and this commitment and determination remains till today.

Addressing suggestions to scrap the annual entry levy, Mr Iswaran said the significant upfront cost of an annual entry levy does deter those without the means from purchasing such annual levies.

Of the total number of entry levies, comprising annual entry levies and daily entry levies purchased by locals in 2011, less than one per cent arose from annual entry levies.

Mr Iswaran said: "The entry levy system is just one part of our entire framework of social safeguard measures, which includes exclusion orders, targeted measures for the financially vulnerable, and, soon, visit limits. These will apply whether one pays an annual or daily levy."

Mr Png Eng Huat, MP for Hougang, said: "The minister said the annual levy is designed for them. The confusion is caused when on one side you have the day levy is $100 dollars whereas the annual levy when divided by annual safeguard is $5.50. If the annual levy is meant for premium players, then it shouldn't be called a safeguard."

Mr Iswaran said: "In most regimes they don't pay to go to their casinos. So whether you pay a hundred dollars or two thousand dollars, that is part of the social safeguard regime."

Addressing concerns on safeguards for gambling beyond the casino, Mr Iswaran, who is also the Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said the government has commenced a review of its regulatory framework and social safeguards for non-casino gambling, including online gaming.

"Online gambling, including gambling on social media platforms and mobile devices, is growing in many countries. Many of the emerging online gambling products are also potentially more addictive. Our objective remains the same, which is to preserve our values of thrift and hard work, and protect our society, especially the vulnerable, from the potential harms of gambling," he said.

Mr Iswaran added that the value proposition of the two IRs lie in the economic benefits that they bring, and their roles in making Singapore a vibrant and dynamic economy.

Today, the two integrated resorts hire more than 22,000 employees. Of these 70 per cent are locals - Singapore Citizens and PRs.

Based on the figures released by the IRs, this is more than 15,000 locals. And of these, 80 per cent are Singapore citizens.

About 80 per cent of the IRs contracts were also awarded to local companies in a variety of sectors.

Mr Iswaran said the IRs will have to continually reinvest and upgrade all areas of their operations in order to ensure they are internationally competitive as tourist destinations. He said the aim is to keep the IRs as an important piece of Singapore's tourism offering in the coming years.

But he also reassured members that the IRs are not the only plan to grow Singapore's tourism sector or economy.

Mr Iswaran said: "The two Integrated Resorts contribute about 1.5 to 2 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product, that's based on the first two years numbers. The 22,400 employees employed by the IRs comprise about 0.7 per cent of our total labour force, or about 2 per cent if you include the other 40,000 jobs created elsewhere. Similarly, the gaming taxes comprise a small fraction of Government revenues.

"In FY 2011, after taking into account the displacement factor, because with the advent of the IRs, some of the other sources of gambling revenue have diminished. The net increase in tax revenues due to the IR casinos was $1.1 billion, 2.2 per cent of total government operating revenue. These are hardly the basis on which the government would have fiscal addiction to revenues by the Irs.

"Several speakers have made comparisons between Singapore and Macau. I would like to put these comparisons in perspective. In 2011, Macau's gaming revenue was US$33.5 billion, or about 92 per cent of their GDP. As a gaming market, Macau is more than seven times bigger than Singapore. We are at no risk of being another Macau or being overly dependent on the casinos or Irs."

- CNA/de

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