From ‘Media hype over MBS winner glamorises gambling’, 12 Nov 2011, Voices, Today
(Sebastian Tan Gee How): …While I am happy that Ms Choo Hong Eng will get her S$416,742.11 winnings from Marina Bay Sands, and even happier that she has decided to donate half to charity, I am worried that too much hype and attention has been accorded to her case.
Already, we are grappling with the real problem of elderly persons gambling away their (or their children’s) hard-earned money at the casinos. Surely such publicity would make it more “attractive” for them to try gambling. I can imagine the elderly persons now telling their family members and friends, who may be trying to dissuade them from gambling, that it is possible to “get rich” by citing Ms Choo’s example.
I urge the media to stop their reporting of Ms Choo, which has inadvertedly “glamorised” gamblers like her.
( The following photo was published in ST on the same day this forum letter appeared)
Vegetarian hawker Choo has become a minor celebrity not so much of her claimed generosity (will anyone actually check that she puts the money where her mouth is?), but because this saga is a classic biblical trope of small-time folk hero battling the odds to smite a Goliath in the casino business. If she weren’t a hawker but a rich man’s wife, we’d probably wouldn’t care so much. Justice may have been served, but this admittedly over-sensationalised rags to riches story, including an elaborate background of hardship as an orphan (could there be a Jack Neo autobiographical movie in the making?) is exactly the kind of news that people lap up, because it gives us HOPE, makes us ENVIOUS, and for those in the anti-casino camp, a satisfying dollop of just deserts (though $400K means nothing to MBS; they have been reported to make $11 million a DAY).
What the media is selling isn’t MBS or gambling per se, but a narrative that Singaporeans would all sympthatise with, one that celebrates the triumph of humility and good over evil i.e the papers are just selling themselves. It was geared to tug at our emotions, and for all this ‘victory for the common people’ and how Choo seemingly deserved her fortune for doing good deeds most of her life, it doesn’t dispel the irony of the other deliberately subdued lesson here; that one can strike it rich by sheer luck, whether you’re rich or poor, especially if you’re kind-hearted by nature. The fact is, for every good hawker who strikes a lottery, there are plenty others like her living on a prayer at the brink of bankruptcy, no matter how active they have been doing charity or saving people’s lives, waiting for the day of their divine reward to arrive in the form of a highly improbable alignment of numbers, jackpot icons or rolls of the die. These people will continue to wait, and hope, or take a shot at the MBS, with or without Choo’s story being blared all over the media.
What’s really underplayed here is whether MBS will be penalised for trying to pull the wool over a patron’s eyes and deny payouts, which could help take some of the limelight off Choo, maybe even dissuade gamblers from patronising a casino with a reputation of cheating their customers. Instead, it’s likely the reverse has already happened, judging by the recent reports of MBS daily takings. But gambling influence aside, the flip side of such publicity is that Choo probably has to sleep with one eye open for a while, and even if her story reveals a no-nonsense feisty character about her, the very fact that she’s an ordinary person, doing an ordinary job, does put her and her family in an unnerving, and quite unnecessary, spotlight. If I were in her shoes, the first thing I’d buy for myself would be a bodyguard. THEN donate everything to ‘charity’. I would also change my mobile number in case some long lost friend in need suddenly calls to ‘see how I’m doing’.
You don’t physically need a casino, or journalists, to ham up gambling as a glamourous lifestyle. Back in 1993, a certain SBC blockbuster called the ‘Unbeatables’ was aired, a blatant copy of Hong Kong’s God of Gamblers series, complete with flying cards and slow motion, close-up dice rolls. This spawned parts 2 and 3, as well as a new generation of high-roller drama called ‘the Ultimatum’, with good-looking leads in opulent settings, throwing in some gun-totting intrigue, romance and overblown card tricks for good measure to complete the allure of the casino universe. I’m sure none of the producers or actors are losing sleep over the casino problems we’re facing currently, but Choo’s life story blends in well with any of the synopses of these dramas. Let’s all hope her tale ends here on a happy note.