175,680 excluded from Singapore's two casinos

A person will be removed from the exclusion list once he stops receiving financial aid or has settled rental arrears, said the National Council on Problem Gambling, which released the figures recently. Both casino operators currently offer a pre-commitment system where patrons can voluntarily set loss limits to pre-determine their expenditure limit at each visit. Others believe that workers should not be forced to ban themselves from casinos to keep their jobs. Thus, it is more beneficial if families are involved directly, rather than as an anonymous or third-party applicant for the Exclusion Order or Visit Limit. Research shows that it is most beneficial for the rehabilitation of problem gamblers if their families also support and attend therapy together with them. The council said this type of exclusion has been gaining ground among foreign workers, which employers attributed to more companies encouraging their workers to apply for the order.

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Neither should we have measures that are easily circumvented. We should not be complacent just because our probable pathological and probable problem gambling rates today remain stable at 1. As Ms Jessica Tan said, there can never be enough safeguards against the harm of gambling and we need to stay vigilant even as we strengthen our social safeguards.

We must stay alert to the evolving trends and be prepared to make the necessary changes in anticipation of new and emerging challenges. For example, Ms Denise Phua and Dr Lam Pin Min raised valid concerns on online gambling, which many jurisdictions are still learning to come to terms with. We too must study the issues and countermeasures carefully and stay ahead of the curve to safeguard our society.

The proposed social safeguards amendments before us are a reflection of the four considerations that I have stated. I will now proceed to address the queries and issues raised by Members in detail.

First, I am heartened to note the general support for the proposed Casino Visit Limit. Under the proposed amendments, NCPG will be empowered to constitute a Committee of Assessors to consider issuing Third-Party Visit Limit or Casino Exclusion for those identified as financially vulnerable or at-risk, depending on individual circumstances.

The NCPG will consider a risk-based approach based on various risk factors such as the frequency of casino visits, credit history and financial situation. It will also take into account information provided by family members during the process. Ms Mary Liew asked about the rationale for introducing Third-Party Visit Limit for persons found to be financially vulnerable and whether an automatic exclusion could be imposed on them instead.

First, I would like to reiterate that this group of financially vulnerable persons differs from the groups that have been automatically excluded from the casinos such as the undischarged bankrupts or those who are dependent on government social assistance. Unlike them, these gamblers may not necessarily be financially distressed to be excluded totally from the casinos now. The financially distressed are already excluded under Third-Party Casino Exclusion.

In July and August this year, we extended Third-Party Casino Exclusion to include an additional 15, persons, such as recipients of ComCare short- and medium-term assistance and those paying subsidised HDB rental but with arrears of six months or more.

I agree with Ms Denise Phua that we should identify those at-risk early so as to proactively consider protective measures for these groups. Mr Desmond Lee and Dr Intan asked whether we could consider allowing anonymous or third-party applications on behalf of individuals and families for Casino Exclusion Orders or Visit Limits.

More pertinent than excluding a person from the casino or imposing a Visit Limit is to get him or her to seek help to curb his or her gambling habit. Research shows that it is most beneficial for the rehabilitation of problem gamblers if their families also support and attend therapy together with them.

Thus, it is more beneficial if families are involved directly, rather than as an anonymous or third-party applicant for the Exclusion Order or Visit Limit. Stopping entry to the casinos may be necessary but insufficient to complete the rehabilitation process for the problem gambler.

The families need to walk the journey together to heal and to recover. Mr Hri Kumar also expressed concern that confidential credit records may be used to determine Casino Exclusion or Visit Limit.

I would like to assure him that the confidentiality of financial information or credit records will be maintained. NCPG will only approach, for example, credit bureaus with the consent of individuals. However, in cases where financially vulnerable gamblers or persons with poor credit record are brought to the attention of the Council for the purpose of an Exclusion Order or Visit Limit, the individual will be given an opportunity to provide evidence to the contrary.

Mr Desmond Lee suggested imposing a Visit Limit, if necessary, as a condition for those who wish to revoke their Self-Exclusion. Also, as suggested by Mr Hri Kumar, the Committee of Assessors will be empowered to refer respondents of Casino Exclusion or Visit Limit, or those who wish to revoke their Casino Exclusion or Visit Limit to participate in a programme of counselling, rehabilitation or special education.

In fact, a person subject to a Family Exclusion Order can be referred for counselling under the current Act. The proposed amendments will allow the Committee of Assessors to issue an Exclusion Order or Visit Limit in the absence of the respondents if they fail to respond to a notice served on them, have indicated that they do not wish to attend the hearing, or cannot be located.

Mr Gerald Giam also expressed concern that families may opt for a Visit Limit as an alternative to an Exclusion Order. Indeed the NCPG will work with family members during the application process to help them determine if an Exclusion Order or Visit Limit will be more appropriate, based on the unique circumstances of each case.

Dr Intan asked how the Visit Limit imposed by the Committee of Assessors would be checked or documented, and whether it would apply to overseas casinos or cruise ships. Once the individual reaches his maximum number of visits per month specified in the Visit Limit, he will be excluded from the casinos for the rest of the month.

The Visit Limit will only apply to the local Integrated Resorts casinos as our legislation does not extend to overseas jurisdictions. Mr Gerald Giam asked if there are entry barriers for family members to apply for a Family Exclusion Order against their loved ones.

The time taken from the point of application to hearing by the Committee of Assessors to determine a Family Exclusion Order application is less than two weeks. The Committee sits about twice a week to hear the applications, not once a month as Mr Gerald Giam mentioned.

Applications are based at Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre so that counselling services can commence at the onset of the process. With the proposed amendments, a provisional Family Exclusion Order can be issued much earlier where necessary. I believe Mr Ang Wei Neng will be assured that, going forward, the Committee of Assessors can protect the family from further harm if there was an urgent need to issue such a provisional order.

While we aim to speed up the processing time for the Family Exclusion Orders, it is important that the process remains robust and reliable. The Committee will take into account all relevant information before the Committee, including information from family members, before deciding to impose a Family Exclusion Order or Family Visit Limit.

Under Section A, the Committee will consider if the individual has engaged, or is likely to engage, in gambling activities in disregard of the needs and welfare of his or her family members for the purpose of a Family Visit Limit, for example whether the individual provides for the family financially, whether there are signs of trouble such as absenteeism from work, whether he engages in criminal activities, and whether there are demand letters from creditors. While the NCPG Council may comprise only 13 members, it has expertise in pertinent gambling-related areas such psychiatry, psychology, social services, counseling, legal, rehabilitative and religious services.

It is supported by a full-time secretariat. Instead of being a self-contained centre, NCPG works in partnership with community organisations such as family service centres, the National Addictions Management Service or NAMS, educational institutions and voluntary organisations such as the community services and Yah! This is a valid concern. When it comes to gambling or problem gambling, frequency and intensity tend to go hand in hand. We will monitor the situation closely. We also urge families and friends of gamblers as well as casino operators, who have a business interest in doing so, to alert NCPG when they encounter individuals who intensify their gambling after a Visit Limit is imposed.

While we put in place rules to safeguard our people, we do not want to end up in a situation where people psychologically pass their personal responsibility to the State. That is if the State limits my gambling to N visits or X amount, then I am safe to gamble within that limit without due consideration of my own personal circumstances, or to control my gambling behaviour, or to monitor the consequences upon myself and my family. This is not the way to interpret our social safeguards.

Both casino operators currently offer a pre-commitment system where patrons can voluntarily set loss limits to pre-determine their expenditure limit at each visit.

At this juncture, we will work with the casino operators to enhance the publicity and use of the pre-commitment system as part of their responsible gambling initiatives. Dr Lee Bee Wah, Mr Dhinakaran, Mr Desmond Lee and Dr Intan suggested that high-risk individuals, for example, those who borrow money from credit institutions or loan sharks, or those who are indebted to a certain extent, should be excluded from the casinos.

Mr Seah Kian Peng also suggested that low-income earners be excluded from the casinos entirely. I agree that we should take a proactive and preventive approach to protect the vulnerable groups before they get into trouble. Regardless of whom the individuals borrow from, we should be concerned if they start borrowing money to feed their gambling. Currently, persons with poor credit record can already be subjected to Third-Party Exclusion from the casinos.

However, financial vulnerability transcends income level. Regardless of income, if you do not spend within your means, there is always a risk. We want to look at financial vulnerability in relation to frequent gambling and help those who need help, regardless of their income. While the number of self-exclusion orders has risen steadily over the years, the number of third-party exclusion orders has fluctuated because people come on and go off as their financial situations change, counsellors say.

Counsellors add that the number of family exclusion orders remains small because it is hard for family members to apply for a ban for their loved ones without causing friction at home.

Yet, women applied for such orders for their husbands, making wives the biggest group among those applying for family exclusion orders.

The rest are parents who applied for their children, or siblings applying on behalf of their brothers or sisters. Observers say more employers are also encouraging their foreign workers to go under self-exclusion orders.

The two casinos opened three years ago amid concerns that more people might fall into problem gambling. But figures released by the Casino Regulatory Authority last month show that only 7. The authority added that the vast majority of the remaining We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused.

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