Fish Hunter no different from gambling

From ‘No different from gambling’, 16 April 2014, My Point, ST Forum

(Yi-Lin Shen): IT IS worrying that senior citizens are playing arcade games like Fish Hunter to win Sheng Siong and FairPrice vouchers (“Shoot-em-up seniors find amusement at arcades”; Monday). This is no different from gambling at slot machines in a casino.

What is even more worrying is that such games are installed at video arcades, which are popular teen hangouts, as this exposes youngsters to gambling. I have seen seniors sitting for hours on end at Fish Hunter tables, armed with cups of coffee and bags of arcade tokens. What are we teaching our youngsters?

I urge game arcades to stop giving out shopping vouchers as rewards. Let the seniors have their fun, but remove the gambling aspect.

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Before shooting fish on a screen became the in thing for arcades, parents were worried about another ‘gambling’ game popular with kids, where money was spent on ‘cards’ and virtual beasts were put to battle: Animal Kaiser. With the rise of free, casual mobile phone games like Candy Crush and Flappy Bird, it appears that it’s seniors, not teens, keeping the arcade industry alive. Without the lure of Fish Hunter or Animal Kaiser to get old people out their house, the arcade machine looks set to go the way of the audio CD. The machine’s screen itself seems perfectly designed for the ageing eye, way larger than the micropixels that the elderly have to struggle with on smartphones, while iPads with their more elderly-friendly screens remain cumbersome to handle and use.

Some swear by the benefits of games like Fish Hunter: Keeping their eye-hand reflexes keen, mind alert, getting to socialise with other old people and even spending time with similarly addicted grandchildren while at it. A similar trend has been observed in Japan as well, with seniors opting for ‘push penny’ games rather than tennis or gateball. In Singapore, you need a break from all that line dancing, nannying and try to catch a ‘golden lobster’ at TimeZone. In fact, even if seniors were addicted to Fish Hunter, at least they don’t have to pay a levy of $100 everytime they sit down for a shot. Unlike casinos, arcades don’t run 24 hours, so obsessed players can still get some sleep. Uncles may get carried away though, hogging the seats and getting into arguments with other parents with kids who want to play the same game.

Even if we banned these machines, what else would lonely old souls do if not play mahjong (for money), queue for Toto, or gawk at Taiwanese drama serials on TV? Yes, even if sitting around preying and praying does resemble gambling, and playing Fish Hunter the whole day isn’t exactly ‘Active Ageing’, the other remaining options aren’t much better off either. Let’s have a few of these machines in the Jurong retirement village already. I’m sure the seniors there will have a whale of a time.

 

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Singapore qualifying for the Poker World Cup

From ‘S’pore makes cut for poker ‘World Cup”, 3 Nov 2013, article by Caroline Khew, Sunday Times

Singapore is going to the “World Cup” in Brazil next year. The World Cup of poker, that is. Its six-man team beat four other countries to take third place in the first-ever Asian Nations Cup in Sanya, China, last month.

It meant the Republic qualified for the second International Federation of Poker World Championship in Rio de Janeiro next February. There, it will take on 15 other countries, including heavyweights the United States and China. The prize pool has yet to be revealed but last year it stood at half a million euros (S$838,000).

Singapore team manager Vince Lau, 52, told how qualification was no easy feat. The team was in the bottom two after the first day and it was only after a change of strategy that Singapore toppled the likes of Japan and India in the later sessions.

“It has been quite an experience and a challenge for us,” said Mr Lau, who is also the president of the Poker Federation of Singapore. “This was our debut match overseas against other Asian countries. Securing third spot was really quite an achievement as we are a young team.”

…Although poker here is not as popular as it is in other countries, Mr Lau said interest is growing. The Poker Federation of Singapore, for example, started with about 100 members in 2009, but its membership has grown to about 350 today. Online poker games have also been gaining traction on sites like Facebook, said Mr Lau.

The Poker Federation of Singapore aims to create awareness of poker being a game which involves using the mind rather than just one associated with gambling. “It’s a stereotype,” said Mr Lau. “Many people don’t know that poker is about skill and risk management rather than being at the mercy of cards. It’s about making the correct decisions based on calculated risks.”

When Mah Bow Tan launched his dream project Goal 2010 for Singapore football, no one believed him and till today, 3 years past schedule, we’re nowhere near target. We may even have trouble qualifying for the 2100 championships, unless by then it’s no longer humans running around kicking a ball, but robots, a department in which we may excel in. No one would expect that we would make it to World Cups and championships that have NOTHING to do with what Mah had in mind.

Just last month, a Singaporean duo won the GARDENING World Cup in Japan. You may also be granted deferment from NS for playing World championship Counterstrike, or Super Street Fighter for the country. In the realm of ball games, we qualified for the 2012 World FLOORBALL championships.  We’ve conquered the world in schools DEBATING, and are succeeding on the Asian stage in SPELLING. All of which suggests that we’re focusing on the wrong events, that Singaporeans are more adept at landscaping, nerdy mental games or poker than swimming or table tennis. We’re, after all, a Garden City with some of Asia’s brightest kids and the most emotionless i.e ‘poker-faced’ people who’ve ever lived on this planet. Look, Sports Council, no FOREIGN IMPORTS too!

Poker, however, is a game that is less likely to send you to a prestigious championship event than into a psychiatric clinic or a Maxi-Cash. Once you’re hooked and indebted, you may very well lose the equivalent of World Cup prize money ($838,000) before getting anywhere near a tournament. If you can’t afford to pay the $100 levy to hone your poker skills at the IRs, there’s always Facebook games or online casinos, poor substitutes for the real thing which requires real-time ‘risk management’ and reading other players’ expressions and gestures. If you need human faces to practice on and can’t wait until CNY, you can join any of the poker ‘meetups’ online for some ‘clean and friendly’ games. Our IRs even have dedicated ‘poker rooms’ for the pros, with a Poker Room Manager as an actual occupation. A Harvard professor uses poker to teach ‘life skills’ like ‘patience, composure and respect for ones’ foes’. Pretty handy, until you become bankrupt when the only skill you need is that of begging for your life.

Glamorising poker or gambling in general isn’t new though; Mediacorp has done sequel after sequel of ‘the Unbeatables’ to make gambling Casino Royale cool. None of the poker pros featured, however, look anything like Li Nanxing.

One Singaporean who has avoided public scrutiny for obvious reasons is trained accountant and poker king Bryan Huang, who’s like the secret Fandi Ahmad of Poker. According to the website Pokerstars, he’s one of the highest earning Singaporeans of ALL TIME. A Poker tour is also EXACTLY how I’d imagine it to be, judging from the photo below. It’s like a car-show and a James Bond movieset in one!

You can Texas Hold Em if you want

The timing for this article promoting poker as some kind of competitive sport and the ‘thinking man’s game of chance’, however, seems misplaced. Late last month, a reported 175, 680 people were placed under casino exclusion orders, a 4 fold increase from 2011 (175, 680 excluded from SIngapore’s two casinos, 27 Oct 2013, ST). We’re also seeing a rise in pawn shops and moneylenders. Pitching the game as one that is as mathematically challenging as Sudoku and you can win big money from tournaments may encourage novices to give it a shot, and not everyone would have the ability to differentiate poker ‘for fun’ or career prospect vs poker as a spiraling addiction. Even poker pros themselves admit to getting burned at the tables in their ‘training’, and it’s obvious that to be the best in the world of competitive poker, you have to lose money. It becomes a problem when you don’t lose well. It’s not like chess where all you have to lose is face.

Yes, this face

Good luck to the poker dudes, anyhow (I doubt any Minister will come forward and offer their support, right MG Chan Chun Sing?). I’m sure there’s a Poker God of Gamblers in waiting among our Maths Olympiad kids, who are blessed not only with our Singaporean emotionless face but a natural poker heuristic, who are now being offered a lucrative career option beyond drab academia or teaching statistics . A Youth Championships in the pipeline perhaps?

Foreign student, 13, arrested for MBS bomb threat

From ‘Boy arrested over threat to blow up MBS’, 1 Jan 2013, article in CNA

Police have arrested a 13-year-old boy who threatened to plant bombs in Marina Bay Sands. The boy had posted the threat on his Facebook page last Saturday. The boy cannot be named as he is a minor.

Police said the case is classified as a Breach of Prohibition Against False Threats of Terrorist Acts. If convicted, he could be fined up to S$100,000 and jailed up to 5 years.

Police investigations are ongoing.

What a way to start the New Year. The name of the culprit was withheld, but it’s likely to be a certain ‘Aditya Bhatia’, an Indian studying in the Global Indian International School according to his Facebook page (1 Jan 2013, ST). This is his ominous Facebook threat in its full uncensored glory.

Singapore: A piece of piece of shit

God knows what Singapore or MBS has done to incur the wrath of a destructive 13 year old, though you can’t exactly discount this rant as ‘mischief’ either, considering how kids these days could pick up bomb-building tips easily from Youtube. Maybe he thought the building was so ugly it had to be demolished. I doubt the US or Canadian immigration would accept him now that he’s getting a criminal record for terrorist behaviour, but I’m sure some Taliban scouts are interested. Spitting everywhere is a surefire way of getting caught, but Aditya Bomberman’s probably too preoccupied with angry thoughts of exploding things or too young to know what DNA is. Incidentally, on the same day this piece of news was reported, a crude bomb was uncovered in Delhi near the home of one of the suspects who brutally gang-raped a woman on a bus. For all we know Aditya (also from New Delhi according to FB) may have already been a amateur bomb-maker back home when other boys are spinning  tops or playing jump rope with the girls. Kids.

In 2010, another student posted his pyromaniac fantasy of ‘bombing all the top schools in Singapore’.  ‘John’ also made a public request to ‘learn terroism’. Totally unacceptable. Everyone knows that the first rule of being a terrorist is being able to SPELL terrorism correctly.

Other kids just wish for Playstations, dude.

That same year, another teen posted a checklist of things that he ‘wants’ to do, like being a hired killer and bombing a secondary school and police station. Whatever happened to cooler stuff like hacking into government websites or getting a motorcycle licence? Both boys got arrested for their posts for merely ‘wishing’ to carry out violent activities, not to mention plot big, big revenge like Aditya here. Maybe these guys are all friends on FB, with their own page called ‘We Da Bomb!’ or something. Such bloody fantasies of annihilating everything in their path is not restricted to little menaces to society though; In 2011, an upset job candidate threatened to bomb Parliament, the police force and a prison, earning himself 9 months in the slammer. He didn’t even have the balls of a 13 year old to make the threat under his own name.

People do secretly want to inflict dramatic violence on others or public property occasionally, but where do the police draw the line? Would you get charged only if you mention the specific word ‘bomb’? What if instead of ‘planting bombs’ all over MBS, I mention something physically impossible like say, summon a series of lightning strikes to rip the Skypark off the top of MBS like Zeus, or cast an infernal zombie curse on its inhabitants? How do the authorities distinguish between a legitimate security threat and the black magic ravings of a lunatic? What if Aditya had said: ‘GONNA STEAL A RIFLE FROM ARMY CAMP AND SHOOT EVERYONE IN ORCHARD ROAD’? How serious should one view such a threat? Is the SAF going to ever sound the alarm and deploy troops to barricade every single armory in Singapore to prevent a 13 year old from going on a shooting spree? What is he, Magneto Jr?

 

Jewel of Pangaea most expensive cocktail in Asia

From ‘Local club unveils Asia’s most expensive drink’, 15 Sept 2012, article by Nicholas Yeo, Today online.

Local club Pangaea and luxury jeweller Mouawad unveiled Asia’s most expensive cocktail at an exclusive showcase at Marina Bay Sands on Friday evening. The drink, dubbed “The Jewel of Pangaea“, costs S$32,000 a glass, and is targeted at a rarefied clientele that enjoys the art of cocktail mixing.

The Jewel of Pangaea is mixed by award-winning master mixologist Mr Ethan Leslie Leong, who has over 18 years of experience in the industry and is reknown for his work as director of bar operations at the Maison Ikkoku cocktail bar on Kandahar Street. The cocktail is infused with gold-flecked Hennessey brandy, a hickory smoke-infused sugar cube, 1985 vintage Krug champagne and garnished with a Mouawad Triple X 1-carat diamond.

…At the event, Leong prepared the drink for the first time and presented it to Ms Sabrina Ault, owner and creative director of Pangaea. She said, “The Jewel of Pangaea is not just a drink, it’s an experience – the spirit of Pangaea in a glass.”

The ‘spirit’ of MBS elite club Pangaea is of course the appreciation of the finer things in life in the most obscenely exorbitant manner possible. Opened in 2010, this exclusive lounge is not ashamed to admit their preference for ‘the well-travelled and discerning set, celebrities, CREATIVE types, models and, of course, the rich and famous’ as their clientele. In their mission statement, not only do they aim to be the most ‘thrilling’ ultra lounge in the world, they also cater to those who only ask for the very best, meaning if you ‘drive a Ferrari’ or ‘fly a private jet’. For a brand that makes reference to a prehistoric super-continent, the appeal of Pangaea is anything but Stone Age, though someone like me who wouldn’t meet their criteria of an ideal customer  may be barred from entering for resembling too closely a Flintstone. I suspect Pangaea is not so much about the element of ‘jetsetting’ than it describing the age of some of the stuff they put into cocktails to justify the ridiculous prices.

One could make any beverage cost 30k by ‘garnishing’ it with expensive jewellery, even if precious stones add no flavour whatsoever to a cocktail. You could surprise your spouse on your wedding anniversary with a diamond ring tucked within the mint leaves of her Mojito and declare that it was the most expensive drink on the menu, provided she doesn’t choke on it first.  Gold flakes used to be something people adorn their clothes , hair or love letters. If you’re a Pangaea regular however, you eat precious metal just for the sake of eating it, not that it’s tasty or nutritious, but because you could afford it. I bet Pangaea’s toilet rolls are lined with cashmere from albino mountain goats and you wash your hands or flush with ‘sparkling’ water imported from the Alps. Even the complimentary nuts may be seasoned with the finest Baltic Sea Salt money can buy, and perhaps served in an oyster shell complete with mother-of-pearl. What’s missing is just the stack of dollar bills for you to light your vintage cigars with.

A ‘mixologist’ is a fancy term for an ‘accomplished bartender’, where you create your own award-winning drinks instead of sticking to a bar menu. It’s like how an ‘illusionist’ is more celebrated than a parlour-trick magician. Take away the accessories from the Jewel and you’re left with a sweetened champagne-brandy mix, nevermind that something as simple as a flaming sugar cube is described as if it were Peking duck. Of course, you can’t leave any simple ingredient unnamed without some history and scarcity behind it. A Mint leaf has to be ‘Louisville grown’, and your ice must be sourced from a 10,000 year old glacier (FACT!). Your blackcurrants must come from the FOREST, your honey from WILDFLOWERS, and somewhere in that ‘infusion’ must be an extract of some BARK. No wonder you have names like Pangaea; the ingredients are stuff our foraging cavemen ancestors used to pick too.

‘Jewel’ also appears to be inspired by the 35,000-pound  ‘Flawless’ drink served at uber-rich club Movida in 2007, which contains gold leaf, Cristal Rose champagne, Louis XII cognac and a white diamond ring at the bottom. No it’s not an ‘experience’ in a glass, it’s a rich-man’s aquarium in a glass. If I wanted a diamond ring I’ll go to a jewellery shop, rather than via the round-about way of getting my hands on it only after poisoning my liver with spirits named after dead French emperors and swallowing gold at a snobs’ party where you can’t tell if someone has a genuine ‘stiff upper lip’ or one injected with collagen. But then again, time is what rich people have in spades anyway.

Jewellery-drinks are stupefyingly crass and an insult to beverage artisans who believe that the ‘finest ingredients’ don’t necessarily have to come from halfway around the world, or from the ground remains of some famous rapper’s gold dentures. The Jewel makes the Singapore Sling look like raspberry flavoured throat gargle in comparison, and although the price of it shouts ‘high-end’, it’s hard not to label this concoction as flashy and shallow, like a Playboy mansion party or a gaudy Las Vegas casino. You don’t need to be a mixologist to create something vulgar (but less costly) right in your kitchen: Get some brandy and champagne leftover from last year’s Xmas hamper, sprinkle in gula melaka, young coconut juice (YOUNG, mind you) and finish off by dropping your mother’s engagement ring into the bottom. Instant atas-ness achieved. Incidentally, there’s a luxury cocktail called ‘The Red Ruby’, which contains pomegranate liqueur, cognac, vodka, champagne and, you guessed it, an ACTUAL RUBY. I prefer mine with coconut milk, sago and chestnuts wrapped in gelatin.

Hawker gambler glamorised by media

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)

The most guarded piece of paper in the country

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.

How can anyone watch this poker-faced?

Locals visiting casinos is just an urban legend

From ‘IRs here have not created more gambling addicts:CRA’, 30 July 2011, article by Ng Jung Yng in Today

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.”

…On the call for greater transparency with regard to the number of Singaporeans entering the casinos, Mr Lau (Peet Meng, CRA Chief Executive) agreed that this could be looked into. “It is … probably one of the aspects of the (Casino Control) Act (that) we need to look at more carefully, which is the legality of the information and how the information shared can be used,” he said.

But Mr Magnus reiterated: “I can perhaps give you the assurance that the local urban legend that quite a number of our locals or PRs frequent the casinos … is just a legend.”

‘Legality of the information’? It’s a simple statistic, Mr Magnus. The number of locals visiting casinos can be obtained by counting the number of paid levies, nobody’s asking for the IDENTITY of the people gambling. If the likes of the CRA is reluctant to reveal such information, you will have the casino pundits themselves telling all kinds of stories, like how 3% of Singaporeans have visited the casino. According to the MCYS’s response to MP Terry Lee’s request for a levy breakdown, the answer was ‘about 70 million as of 10 May 2010′ (RWS opened in Feb 2010, MBS April 2010), an astounding figure, even if you consider repeat visitors.

What is so scary about curious Singaporeans or hardcore gamblers visiting our own IRs that it must be labelled an ‘urban legend’? Urban legends are usually dark, gruesomely implausible tales like eating monkey brains, or HIV positive women going around sticking infected needles into men at Zouk, not Singaporeans lurking in casinos and contributing a quick 70 million in levies while at it.  If the very thought of locals patronising the IRs is so horrifying why bother imposing a 30% limit on locals and why not just ban us from entering totally? And what is the CRA doing making a statement that seems to be defending the impact of the casinos on our gambling addicts? Could it be because without the casinos, there would be no, gulp, CRA jobs to speak of? It is regrettable that instead of looking at the broader picture, of how gambling is affecting us on a whole, a respected statutory institution like CRA is telling us ‘Hey, it’s not our fault gamblers are jumping off buildings, look at 4D and the EPL’. Fine, after all they are just the CASINO regulatory authority, not the GAMBLING regulatory authority. Which leaves it to the professionals treating the disease to make a stand (See below, Don’t take gamblers’ SOS lightly, 30 July 2011, ST Forum)

(Dr Tan Hwee Sim, Dr Thomas Lee Kae Meng): BASED on our clinical experience in treating problem gamblers, we think it is a grave misconception to believe that ‘while the gamblers may sound desperate, they actually pose a low suicide risk and are more impulsive than anything else’, as Wednesday’s article (‘Help I’m in debt’) noted, quoting counsellors and suicide experts.

Elevated rates of suicide attempts among problem gamblers are well established. For example, a 2002 study on treatment-seeking pathological gamblers reported that 49 per cent had a history of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. In a more recent local study published in the Singapore Medical Journal this year, 17.2 per cent of help-seeking gamblers had a history of suicide attempts.

The risk of suicide among gamblers is exacerbated by the high levels of impulsiveness, as well as depression and other substance abuse, which are often reported in association with gambling disorders.

We have managed many cases of people suffering from gambling disorders who have attempted suicide or have had serious suicidal thoughts.

Could the CRA and these doctors be looking at the same study but focusing on different outcomes? Neither of them really addressed the important question: ‘Has the introduction of IRs led to an increase in suicides or suicidal behaviour in gambling addicts’? Not an easy question to answer, obviously, but let’s look at what the study actually reported (Are the demographics and clinical features of pathological gamblers seeking treatment in Singapore changing? SMJ, 2011):

Soccer betting is tops

Cohort 1 consists of the first 150 gamblers who sought treatment from IMH since the launch of its national addiction management service (NAMS) over a period of 4 years, while Cohort 2 consisted of the last 150 patients from 2006 to 2008 (2 years). A few problems here, firstly, ”suicide attempts’ but not ‘suicidal behaviour or thoughts’ were considered as a variable in assessing patient co-morbidities, and this only takes into account addicts SEEKING HELP, omitting an unknown number of addicts out there keeping mum about their condition. But more importantly, the casinos only opened 2 YEARS LATER in 2010.

So, if Mr Magnus was referring to this IMH study, it would be misleading to conclude that ‘gambling addiction numbers before and after the establishment of the IRs remained the same’, when the IRs weren’t even in existence when this study was conducted. What does ‘gambling addiction numbers’ mean anyway? ‘Remained the same’ itself is a bold claim. In scientific parlance it’s preferable to use ‘no statistically significant change’, especially in  scientific papers published by IMH clinicians, and making a statement like that is just prompting skeptics to ask more hard questions.  If anything, this study does imply that soccer betting is on the rise, but I doubt anyone is looking into this, probably because you can’t do anything about it short of banning all television, radio and internet broadcasting of football matches and putting Singapore Pools out of commission. But someone needs to call out Richard Magnus and ask exactly what study he was referring to to support his claim, as I couldn’t find the said publication online myself.

So much for the academics giving much insight, what do politicians have to say about this then? Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, expressed concern about the ‘social effects’, citing the boom in ‘moneylenders offering quick cash/loans’ (Grace Fu voices concern over effects of casinos, 29 July 2011, Today). MP Charles Chong was also a ‘little bit concerned’ if MBS were to expand its business. Nothing much on suicides either, or impact on immediate families, something that is often neglected when dealing with not just gamblers, but ANY addict. Concern is not good enough, PAP. You are the People’s Action Party, not the People’s Concerned Party, and someone needs to put his foot down on the tail of the Road Runner that is the IRs and get some basic data out, before we’re hit by an unsuspecting wave of addiction morbidity and suicides if the industry and the regulatory authority both insist on whitewashing their statistics.

The most telling data in my opinion, in light of all this fudging round, is from this table below from the Samaritans of Singapore, where one sees a clear jump in ‘loan shark’ and ‘gambling’ problems between April 2010 and March 2011. It’s not yet a ‘statistic’ because nobody wants to apply scientific rigor to this data. But here is what I would like to know: Number of people who need help for problems directly or indirectly related to the IRs. It’s not that hard to probe callers for this sort of information, and they may even divulge it willingly. I believe part of the answer may lie with the Samaritans, and the likes of MCYS and NCPG should look into this if they are genuinely ‘concerned’ about Singaporeans.

MBS needs its 30% local gamblers

From ‘MBS does a balancing act with local gamblers’, 11 June 2011, article by Grace Leong, Business Times

The Singapore government has told Las Vegas Sands to ensure that not more than 30 per cent of all visitors to its casino at Marina Bay Sands are Singaporean, a top company executive revealed.

‘We are basically told that as long as only about 30 per cent of the people coming in are Singaporean, then it shouldn’t be a problem. If the amount of Singaporean attendance gets much higher than that, there may be some cause for concern,’ Michael Leven, Las Vegas Sands president and chief operating officer, said.

That 30 per cent figure isn’t published, he said in an interview last week with Inside Asian Gaming. ‘That’s what our numbers have been, roughly 30 per cent Singaporean. That doesn’t seem to cause any problem.’

To this day, only about 3 per cent of Singapore’s population has ever played in a casino, he said.

But a spokesman with the Ministry of Community Development did not confirm the 30 per cent cap, saying only that ‘the IR operators have been told very clearly that the casinos are tourist products and they are not to target the domestic market’.

…’You’re always going to have in the casino business some people who overplay. That’s part of the business, but the great majority of people can control themselves and I don’t think we’re creating more poverty in Singapore because of our presence. But if that were to happen, the government would have every right and every reason to come in and try to restrict play.’

But he said that Sands needed local gamblers in order to support its investment in integrated resorts. ‘We have to have some local play in order to be consistent when we don’t have conventions and we don’t have tourists. Otherwise, you’ve got an awful lot of overhead sitting there not generating any revenue.’

Let’s assume that the average number of daily visitors to MBS casino, according to this ChannelNewsAsia article in 2010, has been hovering around 25,000. 30% of 25,000 is about 8250 Singaporeans daily. According to the Singapore census for 2010, our Singapore residents number around 3.7 million, which is a conservative take on what one means by ‘Singapore population’. Which means 3%, or 111,000 Singaporeans have visited a casino at least once. ONLY 111,000 Singaporeans, as Mr Leven nicely puts it.

Let’s try to put this figure in perspective.  There are as many local casino visitors as there are voters in Bishan Toa Payoh GRC (111,677).  There are almost thrice as many casino visitors as there are doctors and nurses combined in 2010 (37,872) (Singapore in Figures 2011), or the total number of babies born in 2010 (37,967). There are more casino visitors in less than 2 years than the total number of visits to the Singapore Phiatelic Museum in 10 years. (107,400) (Yearbook of Statistics 2010).

The point is, how do we know when it has become a ‘problem’? And how do we know that this ‘problem’ isn’t already happening? Can someone please define what this problem is? On what moral grounds do we have luring foreigners here and then shifting the burden of their habit, perpetuated through our casinos, back onto their own countries? By all means, protect our own citizens, but our sense of social responsibility shouldn’t be constrained within our home boundaries. In fact, a recent surge of scams from foreign fraudsters among other crimes, soliciting included, is exacting costs on our police force. It is also foolish to assume that 1) Tourists are all clean, gullible, rich and can afford to lose, and 2) If they get into trouble they’ll pack up, go home crying to their own people and leave us alone. The fact that the two casinos were in a sneaky free shuttle bus bid for heartland gamblers last year is proof enough that they can’t survive just on tourist traffic, and the fact that our government is pussyfooting on a ban on locals entirely just means that even they know this to be true as well.

MBS becoming Singapore’s national icon

From’ Do we really want a casino as our icon?’ 20 April 2011, Voices, Today

(Tong Jee Cheng): IT is disappointing that the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort is fast becoming an iconic representation of Singapore. We see it in the background in local television dramas, we see it in tourist leaflets. It seems to appear often as backdrops in the various advertising media.

The first I heard of such sentiment was at a talk held at the National Museum – the speaker, whose name I cannot recall, was a local historical researcher. And in another local newspaper, a retired architect and urban theorist echoed this sentiment and said he would rather that the Botanic Gardens be the iconic landmark for Singapore.

Which other country in the world has a casino as its most famous icon?

I don’t think any country has a park as its icon either. Besides, the Botanical Gardens isn’t exactly postcard-pretty or instantly recognizable from the inside. Whether natural or man-made, one of the main criteria of a national icon, other than its uniqueness, scale, history and architecture, is that it must be well adored, even revered to myth-like proportions, by its people and not just manufactured for tourists. The MBS not only fails in that most basic aspect, but also lacks any kind of meaningful history, regardless of its function as a casino or a spiritual temple housing homeless orphans. There’s nothing teeming or rich about it, no stories to tell other than appalling service standards, and serves to draw only a certain kind of tourist; the rich ones.

Perhaps our Singaporean identity is simply this; that we have nothing special to commemorate as a nation or decorate our bills with besides the faces of dead presidents, we have no national costume, no national dish, we don’t have a decent tagline in our tourism posters, and we can’t decide on what monument to officiate as a national treasure without proceeding to tear it down to make way for something glitzier. We seem to have forgotten why we’re called ‘The Lion City’, and other than a spouting lion-fish to remind us, it seems that as a country we’ve developed a collective amnesia of what’s worth conserving, epitomising the Dubai-esque ‘futurepolis’ and every archaeologist’s nightmare in sci-fi lore. Some may argue that we’re just too small a nation to have many candidates to choose from, but even 8.5 sq mile island nation Nauru has an icon in the form of a champion boxer named DJ Maaki, not to mention what’s inside 0.2 square miles of Vatican City.

Not that we haven’t tried looking for one. Singapore’s elusive icon could have been a person, a plant, or even an orang utan, as suggested from a past list of potential national icons as follows:

Animals:  Ah Meng (Why Ah Meng is a national icon, 24 June 2006, Today), Sunbird (This sunbird fits image, 31 May 1986, ST)

Flowers: Vanda Miss Joachim

Statues: Merlion

Buildings: National Stadium, National Library at Stamford, Raffles Hotel, Changi Airport, Esplanade, Zoo, Parliament House

Language: Singlish (Beng is cool, Singlish a Signal, 20 March 2006, Today)

People: MM Lee

Sadly there’s nothing that triggers swelling pride from the slim pickings above, with traditional icons like the Merlion being exploited as part of a hotel installation, and the Raffles Hotel’s Singapore Sling being compared to cough syrup. If we idolise politicians we risk being branded as the North Korea of South East Asia, and advocates of Singlish will realise that we share bits and pieces of it with our Malaysian neighbours. Even if the MBS were granted the dubious honour of being representative of the Singaporean identity, history tells us that it’ll go the way of the National Stadium or Vanda Miss Joachim sooner or later. Ultimately, whats the point of a national icon even if we had one, when our people itself, a mishmash of migrants with their hearts and roots elsewhere, are unlikely to stay long enough, develop a community around it, and tell stories about it to their children in the end? But for now, the question Singaporeans should ask themselves is this; 100 years from now, what’s the one thing we want to see still exist, to grace the pages of National Geographic, appear on the History Channel, to be the first item on every tourist’s itinerary, or printed on our 50 dollar notes? Looking at the list above, my bets are on the Merlion, kitschy today but the icon most likely to really go the distance while megaliths like the MBS  fade forgotten into the shade of an inevitable ever- ascending skyline.

Kampong not Glam

From ‘A broader solution’, 1 Oct 2010, Voices, Today online

(Ivy Singh-Lim:) …In my opinion, the gambling problem is caused largely by an incomplete upbringing that leads to boredom and the desire for cheap thrills.

…A large number of children and youth these days will cite their hobbies as playing computer games, sleeping, going to the movies and logging onto social networking websites.

What has happened to the good old leisure pastimes of reading, fishing and gardening? Has our city become so “modernised” that we forget to teach our children the importance – and appreciation – of a day out in the open, or a book?

…Community groups in the Housing Board estates can play their part by, for example, starting reading groups, community gardens and organising trips to the countryside. A pond could be dug and fish reared in it. There could even be swimming or rowing lessons. In other words, bring back the “kampung”.

Nothing but one sweeping assumption after another, this letter, from a woman who once advocated capital punishment for speeding, deserves highlighting not so much for the fact that she’s totally out of touch with reality(Countryside? What countryside?), nor that she over-romanticises kampung life, but more importantly that she insults the parents of gambling addicts for failing to introduce them to the soul-enriching hobbies of gardening or digging ponds to rear fish when they were young. How an adult behaves is a complex interaction of parental and environmental influences, and it’s simplistic, to say the least, that a prepubescent preoccupation with urban hobbies will promote gambling addiction.

The writer herself is by no means immune to scrutiny, having been accused, ironically I must add,  of violating building safety inspection regulations recently. So all this sentimental nonsense about tilling the earth and being one with nature having a positive effect on one’s moral upbringing just doesn’t hold water. I never had the privilege of living in an actual kampung (You know, communing with nature by shitting on the ground, dancing with fireflies, that kinda stuff), but surely it’s a fallacy to assume that adopting a tribesman’s lifestyle will turn our kids off gambling. Betting, the essence of all gambling, has deep genetic roots, and even if there are no casinos to speak of in rural communities, there are probably chickens instead of chips being put at stake.  Maybe instead of baccarat tables they have betting games out of five stones or pick-up-sticks. In fact, betting would probably take up most of kampung people’s free time only because they have so much of it. Stay in a kampung swatting mosquitoes long enough and any seasoned urbanite will tell you how excruciatingly boring it is. I won’t even be surprised to find our kampung kids today playing PSPs or at minimum, playing Solitaire on a Nokia handphone, instead of turning lallang into rope for fishing boats or riding on water buffalos. Kampung life, by the way, is no bed of roses nor is it the Shangri-Laesque oasis in a concrete jungle that it’s glamourised to be, as seen in this letter dated 19 May 1983, with a former resident complaining about very familiar things. Clogged drains, telephones and surprise, surprise, mosquitoes.

Pass course before entering casino

From ‘Give young people lessons in perils of gambling’, 1 Sept 2010, ST Forum

(Dr Harry Koh): …I disagree with Mr Tan (Kin Lian)’s suggestion to remove the levy of $100. Casino levy is an excellent way to control the crowd and allow only serious gamblers to enter. We do not want non-gamblers to enter the casino and pick up the habit when they cannot afford it.

…At the same time, these revenues are a good source of income for our charities. To me, this is an efficient way to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor. The funds collected can also be used in times of emergencies, like epidemic outbreaks, major disasters and national crisis, thus easing the burden of our country.

The Singapore Problem Gambling Conference 2009 revealed that 3 per cent of the youth are affected by problem gambling. Should we consider increasing the minimum age for casino entry?

If not, perhaps young people aged 21 to 25 should be sent for an educational course, similar to the theory test for a driving licence, before they are allowed to enter casinos.

Wait a minute. Are you telling me that serious gamblers, addicts included, are entitled to the levy because they can AFFORD it? Like afford to lose all their money in the family’s bank account, or afford to throw their marriage, career, maybe even their lives away? Hello? It totally bewilders me how someone with the audacity to address himself as ‘Dr’ in a forum letter can link dirty money from casino revenues to charity. It is a hideous insult to the intelligence and integrity of the needy or disabled by assuming that they would readily receive funding at the expense of gambling addicts and their estranged families, instead of out of the natural altruism of the human heart. The government ain’t Robin Hood, and God knows if the audit trail of the levy earnings so far is encrypted, sealed with industrial strength adhesive in a gold envelope,  locked in a bulletproof safe,  kept in a vault miles underground, secured by state of the art laser alarm systems, and  zealously guarded by rabid, vampire hounds.  The suggestion of enrolling the youth in a compulsory course before granting casino entry is like teaching horny boys how to wear a condom before entering a brothel. They’ll still end up having sex in the end, except that once you’re done with a prostitute you’re out of there. Not so in the glitzy allure of a casino. It is also condescending to think that adults would need some authority to tell them gambling is bad like smoking is bad, or that eating too much makes you fat, or running too long makes you tired. Seriously, duh. Anyway our PM has already encouraged, rather wishy washily I must say, locals to leave the gambling to the foreigners, so you needn’t worry about our youths spiralling into pathological gambling hell because if we can’t rely on our next generation of law-abiding citizens to  listen to our beloved leader’s awkward plea, who will?

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