The Controversy over the Integrated Resorts (aka Casinos)

According to Wikipedia, an Integrated Resort (IR) is a Singaporean euphemism for a casino-based vacation resort. To the layman, Integrated Resort is a nicer sounding name for Casino, of course it offers more: mainly hotels, restaurants and a family entertainment component (RWS has a Universal Studio and MBS has the Arts Museum and Theatre). Ex-MP Tan Soo Khoon said the name integrated resort is a red herring because the casino will still be the centrepiece.
I was probably in the minority who favoured the building of Integrated Resorts (IRs) and was thrilled when not one but two IRs were awarded to the Gentings and the Sands Consortium. The argument back then was simple. It would create jobs and bring vibrancy to the economy. The downside was limited as there were already avenues for people to gamble, they can go to casino in Gentings or cruises or bet at the state-control Singapore Pools’ outlets. The Government had also intended to levy $100 each to deter Singaporeans from entering the Casinos.
“I’m sorry to those of you who I disappointed with my meager prediction that the property (MBS) would produce $1 billion in EBITDA this year. At this stage, it looks like I was off by a pretty fair amount. So I guess one of those egg-wiping face towels will be finding its way to my office as well. But trust me, I will suffer through the indignity of being wronged by such a substantial amount.” – LV Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, Oct 2011 (Source)
Fast forward six years after that fateful decision was made, the two IRs turn out to be highly profitable and the Singapore skyline has become more beautiful and exciting for visitors. On the down side, we are seeing more people seeking help due to gambling problems. According to the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Sheldon Adelson, Singaporeans account for about 25 per cent of visitors to MBS in 2012. There were a few cases of high profile businessmen who lost their fortunes at the Casinos and many foreign workers who lost their hard-earned money going to the Casinos to try their luck that go unreported. The $100 levy turns out to be a weak deterrent, many hardcore gamblers have instead opted for the $2000 (most buy the annual subscriptions to two casinos) annual fees instead so that they can go to the Casinos at their convenience. But what really turns me off is the opening of floodgate during and after the construction phases of the IRs. Nobody has warned us this, the logic is simple, you need additional few 10s thousands people to build the two resorts and after the completion you need a few thousands each to operate the resorts and much more for the supporting industry. So where are these 10000 to 20000 extra people come from? So we need to let foreigners to come in. While if it is just 10000-20000, we probably can still stomach it, but suddenly the Government mentioned that the population has hit 5.5 million figures post IRs. Now if we have known this is what IRs is going to bring to Singapore, you bet that there will be a huge public outcry to allow the Casinos to come to Singapore. My guess is even the Government had not anticipated the acute resulting manpower and infrastructure shortage we would face then when the decision was made. I still remember vividly then Union Chief and Minister Lim Boon Heng was choking with tears who objected to the Casinos but justified his support due to the job creation in the 10 of thousands for “Singaporeans”.
“Criticisms have been made that the government had “quietly” let in the 2 million foreigners in the last few years without any consultation with or disclosure to Singaporeans.” – Andrew Loh
Now Singaporeans have to “repent” for not doing anything to voice their displeasure and had to bear with the escalating prices of everything, overcrowding in everything (from roads to MRT, shopping malls, schools and housing) and the declining service standards everywhere in the last few years and many years to come. This is one fateful lesson for the Government need to learn their mistakes from: for a decision that going to impact the lives of the citizens this big, do not take shortcut, go for a referendum to seek our approval. If it is a collective decision that Singaporeans want the Casinos, it is nobody but our own faults for approving it and live with it. It is too important and painful lesson to leave it in the hands of a few elites who think they are doing good for us. While we may have shown our displeasure during the 2011 election, no more excuses for the ruling elites henceforth to say that voting them in with a strong mandate means endorsing every major policy that is going to impact our lives greatly. I remember ex-PM Goh Chok Tong said this during the controversial Elected President debate.

MPs: Put casino issue to the vote

Source: The Straits Times  2 March 2005

One wants a vote in Parliament; another, a referendum

SOME Singaporeans believe the Government has made up its mind about having a casino here.
Still, two Members of the House want the controversial issue to be put to the vote.
Mr Tan Soo Khoon (East Coast GRC) feels the issue is important enough to be debated further in Parliament, while Nominated MP Loo Choon Yong wants a referendum to be held for Singaporeans to vote on it.
Mr Tan, who stoutly opposed the casino proposal in the House on Jan 17, yesterday suggested MPs be allowed to vote according to their conscience and not be compelled to vote on party lines. By lifting the Whip during the vote, ‘Singaporeans will know where each MP stands,’ he said, noting that ‘only a handful’ of MPs have raised the issue in Parliament.
The veteran MP is also worried that the decision is ‘already tilting in favour of having a casino’. Calling it an integrated resort is a red herring because the casino will still be the centrepiece, he said. ‘Otherwise, you can be sure all the casino moguls around the world will not be scrambling here for a piece of the action if it is just to provide wholesome family entertainment,’ he added.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said a final decision will be made in mid-April, but the Government has invited local and international companies to outline concepts for the project. Between 15 and 20 players are said to have submitted proposals by the deadline two days ago, and this has convinced Non-Constituency MP Steve Chia that the Government has decided in principle to allow a casino. ‘Their intention to proceed is already clear. What is not decided is whether to accept any of the proposals,’ he said.
‘It’s similar to the way the Singapore Land Authority calls for public tender for state land. Their intention is to sell. All they are waiting for is the right tender price.’ So, Mr Chia wants the proposals to be made public and discussed before a decision is made.
Dr Loo, who favours a referendum, said people have a ‘mistaken perception’ that the Government has made up its mind. ‘Coffee-shop talk is that this (decision) is already ‘kelong’,’ quipped Dr Loo, referring to the local slang for match-fixing in football.
He believes by ‘submitting this issue to a binding referendum, the Government can also demonstrate that it really means to have a public debate and that people’s views matter.’ Dr Loo said he personally did not believe in ‘government by referendum’ but felt a vote on the issue would clearly show Singapore’s moral stand.

Speech by Mr Alvin Yeo in Parliament

Source: 23 Nov 2006

“A couple of recent examples illustrate the point.  One that has sparked some controversy is the case of the integrated resorts (or IRs).  The controversy stems from the casino component of the IRs which some Singaporeans feel, not without basis, would bring social ills linked to gambling to our shores.  My purpose is not to debate the evils of gambling but to point out that the tender allowed for a very small percentage, in the single digit, of the gross floor area of integrated resorts to be allocated for casino.  The various tenderers were not being forced to run a casino – if they did not want one – they were being permitted to have one if they did, and all the bidders’ proposed IRs have included a casino in their tender contract.  Why is that so?  That must be because the market believes that it enhances the feasibility of this multi-billion dollar project.The decision to allow a casino component in the IR concept was reached after extensive public consultation and often heated debate.  But what is often obscure, amidst the heat and dust, is that the move was driven by market forces rather than a desire to allow Singaporeans to gamble their savings away.  Put it another way, the decision was really to go with what the market was looking for and then try to contain and counter the social fallout through controls and counselling and other measures.  And if we had any choice but to go with what market forces were demanding, did Singapore, without the natural attractions of the Three Gorges or Mount Fuji, without the historical sites of an Angkor Wat or Borobudor, really have a choice?  I would say not, if they wanted to create sufficient buzz about this island to grow the volume of visitor arrivals that form a significant segment of our economy.”

Source: Todayonline  Jul 30, 2011

The presence of the Integrated Resorts (IRs) here has not caused a spike in the number of gambling addicts, said Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) chairman Richard Magnus yesterday, citing a study done by the Institute of Mental Health.

Speaking at a question and answer session at the 23rd Singapore Law Review Annual Lecture, Mr Magnus said that the study concluded that gambling addiction numbers before and after the establishment of the IRs remained the same.

What the IRs did, though, was provide “just another avenue for gambling”, said Mr Magnus.

He added: “The thinking is that some of these gamblers moved away from the traditional gambling areas and move into casinos.” Read more.

Askmelah’s Note: Now read the following article and you be the judge who is telling the truth.

Writing on her Facebook page yesterday, Ms Fu said: “While I acknowledge the contribution of IRs to our economy, I am concern(ed) about the social effects.”

Ms Fu also expressed her concern over the rising number of advertisements by moneylenders offering “quick loan/fast cash”, in Chinese dailies Shin Min and Wanbao as well as The New Paper.

Limit a citizen’s visits to casinos

Source: The Straits Times  10 Sep 2011

THURSDAY’S articles paint a picture of increasing numbers of people falling prey to their gambling addictions and requiring assistance (‘More gamblers seek help for addiction’, ‘Frequent and heavy gambling also a concern’, ‘Finding hope to beat gambling monster’ and ‘Kicking the habit for good’).

Credit Counselling Singapore statistics show that the proportion of people seeking counselling and attributing gambling as a main cause for being in debt climbed from 22 per cent last year to 29 per cent in the first half of this year.

Gambling problems have increased since the opening of the two casinos last year.

Apart from large gambling debts, a distressing and frequent characteristic is the speed at which such debts are incurred, often over the space of just a few months. We feel that this has been facilitated by easy access to the casinos.

Based on the anecdotal accounts of people resorting to crime as well as the increased number of people being assisted, it appears that Singaporeans could form a significant proportion of visitors to the two casinos.

These casinos have, within a short period, placed Singapore in second spot in terms of gambling turnover, surpassing even Las Vegas.

Such a turn must be viewed with concern if Singaporeans are being adversely affected.

The regulatory authorities should explain whether the original projected turnover from Singaporeans has been under-estimated, and what proportion of gambling turnover is contributed by Singaporeans.

By now, the authorities should know the pattern and frequency of Singaporean gamblers to the two casinos.

The daily entrance fee of $100 may no longer be a deterrent to Singaporeans who want to gamble, and is ineffective in stopping addicts.

We must have more effective curbs in addition to the casino exclusion ban.

We should consider imposing a limit based on the frequency of visits over a specified period.

Singaporeans could, for example, be allowed a fixed number of visits per quarter.

This should deter impulse gambling and be a more effective curb than the present pay-and-play, on-demand system, which is just raising revenue at the moment.

Kuo How Nam
Credit Counselling Singapore

Debtors need help, not castigation

Exerpt from The Straits Times  12 Nov 2011

In September, (Kuo How Nam, President of CCS) has written yet another letter to The Straits Times, this time calling for a citizen’s visits to the casinos to be limited

“we are seeing more people coming to us and attributing their debt problems to gambling’ said Mr Kuo, who said this number climbed from 22 per cent last year to 29 per cent in the first half of this year. He believes this figure does not reveal the true extent of the gambling problem.

This is why he hopes to see more measures introduced to discourage frequent visits to the casinos. Repeatedly calling gambling “a big problem”, he said that while people had to take a coach to Genting to visit a casino in the past, “now if they have a lunchtime itch to gamble, they can scratch it straightaway”.

“This will lead to more impulse gambling and the $100 daily entrance fee may no longer be a deterrent,” he said. While he had called for the Government to allow Singaporeans only a fixed number of visits per quarter in his letter, he now also suggests tweaking entrance tees upwards, according to the frequency of one’s visit.

On average, CCS counsels between 25 and 30 people a week, with three out of four of those who seek help being men. A majority » 66 per cent — of these debtors, or clients as Mr Kuo prefers to call them, are married with children, earning an average of $2,700 per month.

What is most startling however, is this next nugget of information he provides: ”They usually owe $70,000 to seven creditors, an amount that will take more than, five years to repay, if they pay $1,100 a month/’ While the number of CCS “clients” spiked in 2008 during the economic slowdown, he said it has been stable in the last two years.

Updated 6 Feb 2014: Total gambling losses incurred by Singapore, which include losses by tourists and other visitors here, amounted to S$9.9 billion. The average adult resident in the Republic lost €680 (S$1,189) last year, down from €822 (worth S$1,451 at the time) in 2010, according to H2 Gambling Capital.When tourists and visitors’ gambling losses are taken into account, the losses incurred per adult here is S$1,964. (Source: Todayonline: “S’poreans remain second-biggest gamblers in the world”)


Relook stance on casinos to deter gambling: Phua

SINGAPORE — She was not the only Member of Parliament (MP) who argued yesterday for a total ban on remote gambling, but Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua also went a step further to again urge a rethink of casino operations here.
Source: Todayonline OCTOBER 8 2014

SINGAPORE — She was not the only Member of Parliament (MP) who argued yesterday for a total ban on remote gambling, but Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua also went a step further to again urge a rethink of casino operations here.

Almost 10 years after the Government decided to allow casinos in Singapore, Ms Phua questioned whether it was time to review its position. “When will Singapore wean itself off the casino industry, reduce the casinos from two to one to nil, especially in light of new potential entrants such as Japan and other Asian countries?

“With the tightening of foreign labour in Singapore, have the casinos now become competitors for manpower from our local small and medium enterprises? … What is our progress in learning skills such as operating the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (sector) and family entertainment industries, which the integrated resorts have exposed us to?”

While relieved that Singapore has “exercised strong self-restraint” in the brick-and-mortar casino business, it is time for the Government to take a holistic approach to discourage gambling as an economic or social activity,said Ms Phua. “It is not enough to make silo, piecemeal introductions of legislation and policies”, though they may be well-intentioned.

While the long-term place of gambling in Singapore is being reviewed, Ms Phua proposed for more to be done to discourage this activity among Singaporeans — such as by increasing the casino levy and creating an opt-in system, so only those who wish to gamble sign up.

Separately, responding to questions for written answers tabled by Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said about 8 per cent of casino day-entry levies had been paid by Singaporean patrons to extend their stay in the two casinos here. Of these, more than half did so on two occasions or fewer during the year. He added that there are currently no plans to place restrictions on consecutive day-entry levies.

Mr Teo also noted that the day-entry levy is valid for multiple visits within a 24-hour period. “We do not have readily available data on the number who stayed beyond 24 hours in a continuous stretch.”

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