From 4D to minibonds, gambling has taken deep roots in S'pore. By Gilbert Goh.

Gamblers and gambling – a nation hooked

Gilbert Goh / Guest Writer

I am concerned at the recent spate of adverse news regarding bad investments coming out from my country.

From the investors’ huge loss in minibond issues to the most recent Town Councils’ exposure to similar toxic investments, one gets the feeling that our country is hooked on trying to grow their money in anyway possible. There is simply no need for our Town Councils to speculate in such risky investment as the huge surplus is enough to maintain all our HDB flats for at least a year even if all the residents stopped paying their S & C fees. Are we really that desperate to make profits from funds that we already have?

I remember when our ex Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong liberialised the usage of CPF ordinary funds for the purchase of stocks and shares few years back. Everyone was rushing to open up an investment account and billions of dollars were plowed into equities. The stock exchange volume skyrocketted and remisiers laughed all the way to the bank. Well, we know what happened later. Most people lost money and less than 20% of investors managed to make any gain more than what the CPF board can offer at any given one time. Most would have in fact been better off if the money had been placed with the CPF Board, gaining 2.5% in annual return. The scheme, though currently existing, is now narrowly capped so that lesser amount can be used for such high risk investments. Naive? Maybe. Ignorant? I don’t know. We all invested with our eyes open.

Our investment giants GIC and Temesak Holdings are also no better off here with billions of dollars at its disposal for investment. Perhaps, the root of the problem is that we may have too much money at our disposal for our own good. We want to grow what we already have even though the risk outweighs whatever anticipated gains projected. We all know that our investment giants are not doing too well with mis-timed investments in Citibank, Goldman Sans, UBS and ABC Learning Childcare.

High risk, high collateral damage

Strangely, the possible loss of hard earned money does not dissuade us from plunging into the dark world of financial investment. Perhaps because our country has always wanted to be the top financial institution in the world and simply not being connected with any financial investment is just not part of our DNA. Everyone seems to have at least an investment stock account and no one is spared from buying up an investment-linked product from our friendly insurance agent.

I have seen friends gone bankrupt all because they want to grow their money through the share market way. Simply having hundreds of thousands dollars is not enough, they want more and they want it fast. Eventually, they lost everything and some even their families.

For the minibond investors, if they were to place their money in safe instruments like fixed deposits, they will still be holding on their hard-earned money now though the interest is miserly. However, due either to greed or persuasion by sugar-coated relationship managers, our retirees began to invest in riskier instruments for a better return. In the end, we all know what the outcome is. I don’t know whether it was greed or ignorance that led to their financial downfall but it could be both.

A nation of gamblers

The hundreds of Singapore Pools stations throughout the island also provide a very damning picture on how much influence gambling has on our people. The long queues at such outlets indicate that we may truly be a nation of gamblers gaming for a punt anytime and anywhere. We may not be very far behind Hong Kong or Macau who are noted for their gambling culture.

Football punters I know will bet the few dollars just to get the thrill of watching a live game with their friends during the weekend. Though they may start off as social gamblers, they slowly get hooked into betting and become slaves to such a vice.

The one-armed bandit also enslaved a lot of people in social clubs – some to escape from their problems whereas others have too much free time to spend. Personally, I am guilty of being a slave to the jackpot machine a few years back and could only escape after a year of entrapment.

As the two casinos are due to be part of our lives from 2009 onwards, one wonders how much negative social influence this will have on our people despite the many barriers being set up for people to visit them. Will we have more people getting into all kinds of gambling problem? Will we witness more marriages breaking up as a result of legalised gambling right on our door step?

Your guess is as good as mine.