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.
Filed under: 2011, Bureaucrats, Casino/gambling, Politicians | Tagged: Casino/gambling, mbs, Politicians, RWS | 1 Comment »