The dumb-dumb casino levy

 Let me start by saying that I will make the dumb-dumb casino levy applied on Singaporeans and permanent residents going to our two casinos — Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa — an election issue, if the Government raises it as suggested by the two lady MPs and 1 gentleman MP reported in the New Paper on Sunday article (reproduced below).

wins from 8th visit

I enjoy visiting the casino (note the singular). I’ve only been to MBS because it’s nearer my home and in a part of the island I’m comfortable with.

So where I’m concerned, I’ll have to reconsider whether to give my vote to the PAP– provided there’s a contest where I live; there wasn’t one in the last two elections, or it is three? — if  the garmen not only perpetuates something that’s dumb and doesn’t really work, but also raises the quantum!

I think it’s already an unnecessary handicap for Singaporeans n PRs to have to pay the $100 levy per 24-hour entry. Raising it will make it even more unfair to us. And it won’t deter. Quite the opposite.

Why?

After paying the levy, the levy payor, in order to get full value for money, feels the need to stay in the casino longer than physically or financially healthy.

I had gone to MBS four times in 2010 and paid $100 on each visit. Because I wanted to max out my levy, I stayed almost 12 hours each time. On balance, I didn’t lose money on those trips, other than the levy. But I was so dog tired each time that if I carried on like that, I could seriously damage my health.

So I paid the $2K full year levy on Jan 2 this year to enjoy MBS lesiurely. I stayed far shorter hours , except for last night but that was because I went with a friend and ran into another and got to talking more than gambling.

I guess that probably up to 80 per cent or more or those who paid the $130 million worth of levy up to November last year are like us. We can afford the levy and we gamble small. As a form of entertainment. Like going to a Jay Chou concert. Or having a binge at Andre’s. Or in lieue of paying a psychiatrist to ease whatever mental baggage they may be carrying.

Another 10 per cent will gamble big and can afford the levy, natch.

That leaves another 10 per cent who are losers in all aspects. They scrape together the levy. They gamble what they can’t afford to lose, hoping to break out of their poverty circle with a big, big win (fat hope). They will come to a terrible end, casino or not.

If the anti-gambling lobby in and outside of Government is truly and seriously worried about preventing people like that from ruining their lives, then it should look beyond the Singaporean and PR contingent to the 1 million plus foreigners living in our midst who aren’t tourists and yet can go in and out of the casinos without paying the levy.

These are overwhelmingly the foreign workers who go into deep debt to come and work here; there are also the foreign students whose parents back home are toiling blood and sweat to finance their expensive education in Singapore.

Should this group be subjected to temptation day in and out by the fact that their passport has a $36,500 value per year? And if they don’t visit the casinos even a few times, they are letting that value go to waste!

Sure, they probably go to have a look see initially, very much like they would go to Orchard Road to window shop on their off days. But unlike Orchard Road, the casinos offer goods that are immensely accessible: jackpot machines where one can gamble for a few cents a round!

Even if this group won’t have enough money to get good and really hooked on gambling, they are in real danger of losing all their hard earned money, with dangerous consequences for themselves, their families back home and to a certain extent to the law and order in Singapore. Desperate people lead to desperate actions!

Ditto for those foreign students who don’t come here with fat bank accounts.

Doesn’t Singapore have a duty to ensure that this very vunlerable group of foreigners are also protected from the casino cash chasm?

So my suggestions to those law makers yada-daing about Singaporeans and the casinos, that they do something NOW to protect the large swatch of vulnerable and poor foreigners, be4 trying to raise and tighten the ring fence already put around us.

Foreign workers and foreign students old enough to enter casinos should all be covered by the $100 levy.

That way, Singapore will show it really cares about all financially vulnerable living within our shores and not only those who are Singaporeans and PRs.

Singaporeans undeterred?

The current casino levy of $100 is not enough to deter casino visitors. Between April and November last year, more than $130 million in levies were collected. -TNP

Tue, Feb 08, 2011
The New Paper

By Desmond Ng

SLAP a $100 daily levy, or an annual one at $2,000, and locals will be turned off the idea of visiting the two casinos.

After all, it means you lose $100 even before hitting the tables.

That was the aim when the Government introduced the levies to reduce the social impact of the casinos on Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).

But between April and November last year, more than $130 million in levies were collected, reported The Straits Times last month.

Maybe the levies aren’t having the desired effect, some Members of Parliament (MPs) and industry watchers told The New Paper.

And one option would be to make it more expensive for locals to visit the casinos.

But what does $130 million mean?

Even taking into account that annual levies also make up the $130 million, simple mathematics would indicate that a few thousand Singaporeans and PRs enter the two casinos daily.

The money is already being recycled back to the community, said Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Transport, reported the Straits Times last July.

This is being done via the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board), which is given all the money collected.

It then hands them out as grants to community projects, said Mrs Lim.

Four out of the seven MPs contacted by The New Paper on Sunday said there should be a review of the current entry levies, given the latest numbers.

MP for Jalan Besar GRC Denise Phua is concerned with the significant revenue collected and thinks it may be a good idea to increase the daily levy to deter gamblers.

She said: “Maybe we should also think about getting rid of the annual levy.

“This merely encourages more frequent attendance to spread out the levy by the gambler.”

Madam Halimah Yacob, MP for Jurong GRC, said she would be concerned if the sum collected remains high.

“The fact that we’re collecting $130 million means that a lot of Singaporeans are going to the casinos. So the question we need to ask is: Is this a novelty factor?”

The situation should be monitored closely, and if the levies collected remain high in two to three years’ time, then there would be a need to review it or think of other deterrents, she said.

“But we need to look beyond the levy, there are other measures to educate Singaporeans. We should also make sure the IRs do not target Singaporeans.”

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, said the levy amount should not be cast in stone.

He added: “We should review it from time to time in light of data related to problem gambling.”

Like the ERP, perhaps. When there’s too much traffic, raise the price.

But are there plans to raise the levy amount?

When contacted, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth&Sports (MCYS) declined to comment.

The casino levy, announced in December 2004, was a signal that gambling was not a way to make a living.

It was among a basket of “social safeguards” spelt out for investors interested in developing the IRs.

Some casino operators were piqued at the levies, reported the Straits Times in 2004.

The two IRs were given a 30-year gaming licence with a 10-year exclusivity period.

The then Second Trade and Industry Minister Vivian Balakrishnan explained in Parliament in 2005 that the levy was set at $100 because it is more than what Singaporeans must fork out to travel to Batam or Genting – the two nearest casino destinations.

He said then: “So by pitching it at that level, it allows me to honestly tell you that we are not making gambling more accessible. But let me also say frankly that no amount of levy will deter compulsive gamblers.”

Singapore is unique in requiring casinos to levy such entrance fees.

Malaysia requires Genting casinos to ban Muslims, while South Korea allows just one of its 14 casinos to admit local residents.

The Casino Control Act – which was passed in 2006 – also put in place the daily and annual levies for Singaporeans entering the casino, and other regulations on licensing and auditing of operators.

MP for Aljunied GRC Madam Cynthia Phua said there was a need for more meaningful information, such as how many Singaporeans and PRs are visiting the casinos before reviewing the levy.

She said: “To me, it’s still very early, some of them may visit out of curiosity. We should monitor this trend. So far, the ground impact has not surfaced very seriously.”

Mr Tony Compton, who lectures on casino management at the Boston Business School here, also doesn’t think it’s necessary to increase the entry levy yet.

He said: “The levy was put there by law to deter those who just want to go to the casino for fun or those who are half-hearted about paying $100 to go in. Those who want to go in to gamble will not be deterred by a higher entry levy.”

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said last December that it was still too early to tell the full extent of the social impact that casinos are having in Singapore.

But the Government is monitoring the situation closely and will take additional measures if necessary, he said, reported the Straits Times.

He added the Government’s approach to the two casinos at the IRs was to maximise economic objectives while minimising adverse social outcomes.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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9 thoughts on “The dumb-dumb casino levy

  1. LOL! I say: lower the levy to $50, and have free ‘open houses’ on holidays to allow ‘more people to go kill themselves’. 😛

    But of course, the open house will require some delicate crowd control or else it will be too crowded to even walk or gamble. And no kids allowed.: P

  2. xizor2000: think casino won’t allow in pple under a certain age, so kids won’t be a problem. But what about pets like dogs? 😀 Agree: allow all Singaporeans to enjoy the casino once a year for free: no need to designate a day. They can go on day of choice, as the casinos will be able to capture who has alredi enjoyed free entry. If we are spending 100s of millions to bring temperate flora and fauna to the Marina Bay to let those S’poreans who don’t get travel a chance to enjoy such exotica, why not a once a year levy waiver? I know what the majority of S’poreans would prefer!

  3. Hi Anti-gambling: not sure if the Govt is playing god or devil but in trying to please too many people, esp the anti gambling lobby and the make S’pore a vibrant city lobby, it cld end up pleasing neither. And offending everyone else in between by putting useless fetters that distort potential!

  4. I seriously don’t think the gahmen was trying to play god. Now, I must admit that I protested when the IR was to be built, on religious grounds.

    On looking back, I must say the gahmen was only ‘silencing’ moralists like me (about how the casinos will harm our people) by implementing the levy. The sword cuts both ways so now I can’t go in to even take a look.

    While I don’t gamble, other than the once-in-a-blue-moon Toto / 4D bet, I would like to go into Singapore’s casino and take a look… just for experience sake….

  5. Xizor2000, I don’t encourage anyone to go to a casino, including my friends. You go only if you want to, not because someone tells you you should.

    The casino (I speak only about MBS, as I haven’t stepped into RWS) is neither glamorous nor a den of iniquity. But if you like walking, then there’s a lot of space, very much like a shopping mall!

  6. I find that Singapore by putting a levy really got sth wrong. what about those who are not gambling but just wanna see how this casino compares to others worldwide. or the Wife who goes in with her husband to control is capital losses. there should be more flexibility on this

  7. Yah lor Matt! That’s the outcome when policies are introduced without thinking thru to all the possible consequences. Still, that’s human. Most of us do things like that too n in that way our garmen show it’s human as well, hur, hur, hur :-D!

  8. Pingback: Pay Singaporeans & PRs to stay out of casinos! | FOOD fuels me to talk…

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