Parliament: Replies that never answer the question? (Act 3)

By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the article “So, what’s the true cost of casinos?” (Straits Times, Nov 17).
How many visit casinos?
It states that “Yesterday, the House heard that Singaporeans account for 25 to 30 per cent of all casino visits.
MPs were also assured that fewer Singaporeans were visiting the casinos, as reflected in the drop in total amount of entry levies collected. But it was not clear how many were paying the $100 daily levy and how many were opting for the $2,000 annual levy”.
I find the above may be quite strange, because if the number of Singaporeans visiting the casinos has dropped, why not just give us a straight-forward answer by giving the statistics?
Since we can say that “Singaporeans account for 25 to 30 per cent of all casino visits”, it means that we also have the statistics as to whether the number has been increasing or dropping.
So, why go a round-about way of saying that “MPs were also assured that fewer Singaporeans were visiting the casinos, as reflected in the drop in total amount of entry levies collected”?
A drop in total levies may not necessarily mean a drop in the number of Singaporeans visiting the casinos, because it may mean that more people have converted to the annual levy, or more people are visiting but for lesser number of times for the daily levy.
The above may be reinforced by “But he (Minister) did not give a breakdown of how much came from the $100 daily levy and how much was from the $2,000 annual levy (“Close watch on casino gambling”, Straits Times, Nov 17).
Why not just give the breakdown so that we can see whether the the number of annual levies has increased?
Reason for more gambling counseling?
The report “130,000 excluded from casinos to date” (Channel NewsAsia, Nov 16)
said “Mr Chan also said that the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) and Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre saw the number of people seeking help increase from 300 in 2008 to close to 770 between January and October 2012.
“The upward trend is likely to be a result of efforts by NCPG (National Council on Problem Gambling) and NAMS to raise awareness of problem gambling,” said the acting minister”.
Isn’t it rather obvious that the reason may just simply be that more people have gambling problems, instead of “efforts” and “awareness”?
Every time the casino problem statistics are cited, the reason given has invariably been due to more awareness, and I believe everyone just accepts this reason without questioning the obvious?
How much money lost?
Once again, the current debate tells us the same story that it is not possible to figure out how much money Singaporeans have lost? Well, in this regard, since the two casinos had combined annual gaming revenue of $5.7 billion last year, your guess is as good as mine as to how much came from Singaporeans?
If we take the “Singaporeans account for 25 to 30 per cent of all casino visits” figure, the amount may be about $1.6 billion ($5.7 billion x 27.5%) in just one year!
How many gambling?
Finally, the most important and basic statistic has never been revealed – how many Singaporeans visit the casinos in a year and how many have visited since the casinos opened, and how many  visits by Singaporeans, despite years of countless debates in Parliament?
And also the corresponding statistics for permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners, for comparative purposes, so that we can see if indeed the IRs’ gaming revenue are mostly from foreigners.
All that we have been told so far may be quite meaningless “half statistics” like so many per cent of total visits without the number of total visits, less total levies means less Singaporean visitors, etc.
In fact, the Government’s earlier review on the two integrated resorts gave a total of 273,693 local gamblers visiting the two casinos last year, but not how often did the 273,693 locals visit the casinos, that is how many visits did they make in total in the year?
So, why is it that the subject Parliamentary debate is now silent on the actual number of people visiting the casinos?
Casino statistics cannot be revealed?
In this connection, it may be interesting to reproduce what I wrote about casino statistics on Aug 3 – (“Singapore ahead in the losing game?” (Today, Aug 3)):-
“I refer to the article “IRs here have not created more gambling addicts: CRA” (Today, July 30).
On the call for greater transparency regarding the number of Singaporeans entering the casinos, it states that Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) chief executive Lau Peet Meng had agreed that the legality of the information – and how it is shared – could be looked into more carefully.
I find it strange that the Casino Control Act can be crafted such that statistics on how many Singaporeans are entering the two casinos may not be revealed. I have read the Act and am unable to find such a prohibition. Can the CRA point out the specific section(s)?
Then how was the former Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister able to disclose last September in Parliament that more than a million Singapore residents had visited the casinos since they opened?
While CRA chairman Richard Magnus said last week that it was an “urban legend that quite a number of our (residents) frequent the casinos” and had cited an Institute of Mental Health study that gambling addiction numbers remain the same, surely giving the statistics on Singaporean visitors would be the best way to end speculation that more are gambling.”
History of casino statistics disclosure?
So, in summary, if we trace the history of the disclosure of casino statistics in Singapore – at first, the former Minister gave the number of visits but not the number of Singaporeans, then the Government review gave the number of locals but not the number of visits, followed by the CRA saying that the Act prevented the disclousure of certain statistics, and now in Parliament the percentage of Singaporean visits out of an unknown total or the number of Singaporeans?
2nd in the world for gambling losses?
According to the article “Gambling: The biggest losers” (The Economist, May 16), “Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa alone nearly outgross the entire Las Vegas Strip”.
In the chart accompanying the above article, “Biggest gamblers – Loss per resident adult, 2010. $ (US$)”, Singapore is ranked number two in the world, at about US$1,180. Australia is ranked number one at about US$1,280″.
Record pawn shop loans
According to the Department of Statistics’ Monthly Digest of Statistics Singapore June 2012, pawn shop loans increased by its greatest margin ever in history.
338,600 pledges in just 1 month
Pledges at pawnshops increased from 2.98 in 2010 to 3.5 million in 2011, and was 338,600 in the month of March 2012 alone.
81% increase in loans
The amount of loans given out increased from $2.7 to $4.9 billion and $622 million, respectively.
This means that the amount of loans from pawn shops increased by a whopping 81 per cent in 2011.
$622 m loans in just 1 month
At the current all-time record high of $622 million in just one month, the total in a year may hit seven billion.
So, why is it that so many people pawn their items for so much more loans from pawn shops? Is it linked to casino gambling losses?