The casino levies at the Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore have been increased from S$100 a day or S$2,000 a year to S$150 and S$3,000 a year just last month on 4 April.
“The daily and annual entry levies serve to deter casual and impulse gambling by locals and are part of a holistic suite of social safeguards,” Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Monday (6 May).
Mrs Teo, who is also Manpower Minister, pointed out that even before the $9 billion expansion plans of the two Integrated Resorts (IR) started operations, the number of local visitors to the casinos dropped by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2018.
Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Member of Parliament Alex Yam asked Mrs Teo of the amount collected since the introduction of the entry levy and its effectiveness in deterring gambling problems.
She replied that around S$1.3 billion in casino entry fees were paid by Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs) between 2010 and 2018.
Based on the gambling participation survey done every three years by National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), the probable problem and pathological gambling rate of Singapore residents had declined from 2.6 per cent in 2011 to 0.9 per cent in 2017.
Mr Yam also enquired if the annual levy removed to further discourage gambling problems.
“The data is quite clear – annual entry-levy holders tend to have higher incomes,” Mrs Teo said, maintaining that the annual levy would be kept for now. “For these affluent individuals who want to visit casinos often, such as premium players, the annual entry levy provides convenience.”
Apart from the levies, Mrs Teo also stressed that the government has incorporated other social safeguards as measures of deterrence, including an exclusion order for the financially vulnerable.
“If you’re under the exclusion order, then no amount that you offer will get you through,” she added.
In a reply to a separate parliamentary question by Bukit Batok SMC MP Murali Pillai about casino-related crime, Mrs Teo notes that the annual number of cases decreased about 58 per cent – from 299 to 126 cases between 2010 and 2018.
This shows that the casino-related crime situation in Singapore is “under control” and has continued to improve since the casinos commenced operations in 2010, she said.
She added that there have been fewer than 20 cases linked to organised crime groups in the last decades, with the amounts involved ranging from S$14,000 to S$1.3 million.
Most of the casino crimes are “opportunistic and petty in nature”, such as cheating, theft of gambling chips belonging to other patrons at the gaming tables, as well as the stealing of cash, valuables and unattended bags.
Mrs Teo assured Mr Pillai that the police and the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) “actively manage” law-and-order concerns and monitor the possibility of syndicates.
“To prevent infiltration of criminal elements into the casinos, CRA licenses casino employees and subjects them to stringent checks. Police exchange information with their counterparts in other countries on the latest casino-related crime trends and persons of interest,” she elaborated.
On the other hand, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee vouched that Singapore’s casino safeguards are “among the most stringent in the world”.
In response to questions from MP Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), Mr Lee said there are preventive measures in place, as well as targeted and “upstream” measures to address problems in gambling.
“The objective of the existing social safeguards is to try to minimise the negative impact of gambling by targeting the problem gamblers and the financially vulnerable,” he said.
For instance, those who are financially vulnerable such as undischarged bankrupts, recipients of government financial aid or residents in HDB rental flats who have six months or more of rental arrears are barred from entering casinos and betting online with Singapore Pools.
Moreover, many locals have voluntarily excluded themselves from the casinos, slot machines in private clubs and opening an online account with Singapore Pools by registering under the self-exclusion scheme.
The NCPG also has powers under the Casino Control Act to limit the number of visits an individual can make to the casino each month.
Besides that, the authorities are working with the IRs “to implement technology to provide patrons with information to allow them to make informed decisions on their bets and better control their gambling expenditure”.
Casino gaming staff will be equipped with training as well to better identify and provide assistance to customers who are at risk of gambling problems.
These measures have helped reduce problem gambling in the resident population to only 1 per cent, Mr Lee said, adding that the government plans to introduce more preventive measures.
It’s clear that Mrs Teo said that by increasing the entry levy to casino, it had help to deter gambling problems. However, many netizens think otherwise and question the relevance of increasing the levies if it did help to control gambling issues among locals. Others commented on Channel NewsAsia’s Facebook page and said that it’s better for them to go to casinos at other countries as it will be more worth it. However, Steven Low opined that regardless of high the government increases the entrance fee, gamblers will still find their way to go to casino.
As for the S$1.3 billion collection from entry fees between 2010 and 2018, online users are urging the government to use the money wisely and help the people, especially the older citizens. In addition, one netizen named Xi Du wondered why PM Lee said the government does not have enough fund to sustain medical schemes. although they have a large amount of money collected just from casino’s entry fees.
On the other hand, Melvin Sim pointed out that gambling problems have not stopped even with the increase in casino entry levies. This is because the damage that it had done on gamblers is too much as they will end up running away or hide from loan sharks, leaving their family to deal with the taunts and harassment. He added that there are many gambling social problems that is still happening in Singapore ever since the casinos were opened, which the media don’t report on.