With the approval for the operation of casinos in Singapore, many citizens are expressing their concerns over social ills that may inhibit the city-state because of gambling.
In February, a gambling related suicide case was reported involving a family of four who have been found dead in unusual circumstances at Tampines, east of Singapore. The victim Mr Simon Lee reportedly troubled by gambling debts, was found at the foot of a public housing block while his wife and two children were found dead in their flat. This incident has triggered concerns among citizens over the social costs of having a casino here.
According to a private practitioner psychiatrist Dr Chia Boon Hock who has been studying suicide trends in Singapore, 56 suicides associated with gambling have been reported between 2000 and 2003, making up about 4.1 per cent of the 1,356 resident suicides for the period. Of the 56 suicides, 48 were mostly Chinese men between 20 and 59 years of age who are "economically active" and from different categories of profession. Over half of them are aged between 30 and 49 years, which echo recent report from a survey by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), which states similar profile of high-risk gamblers of mostly Chinese males between the age of 30 and 49, and drawing a monthly salary of $2,000 or above.
In a web site hosted by a non-government organised group known as Families Against the Casino Threat in Singapore (FACTS), petitions of 19,500 names have been submitted in April to the President of Singapore to request the government not to approve the operation of casinos here. Decision, however, was made by the government to go ahead with the casino proposal for economic reasons and FACTS has expressed disappointment. Ongoing petitions received to-date at FACTS web site show the number of petitions has now increased to 29,583.
"We express our disappointment that the decision to set up the casino was made. We are still opposed to gambling and all the effects of that vice," associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Singapore Lim Kay Tham told Agence France Presse (AFP).
Roman Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Chia has expressed similar regrets over the government's approval.
"We can understand the economic quantum to the casino, but we are very worried about the cost to human, family and social well-being," Chia told AFP.
"We will try to dissuade people from being addicted and educate people on the ill-effects of problem-gambling," Chia added.
"I don't think education can help solve gambling addiction. Once a person is addicted, he or she can lead to self-despondent and other ills," said information technology consultant, Desmond Ng, 42, who is also a Christian.
"From an economic point of view, social cost may prove too much for social benefits," said Belle Yang, 19, an undergraduate.
"Having casinos may bring in the needed revenue for Singapore and prevent unnecessary outflow of local currency to stimulate economic growth, but the underlying social cost may be a high price to pay if robberies increase amongst desperate people or even murder for money which is unacceptable for most Singaporeans," Yang added.
As part of the Government's measure to tackle gambling problems and provide social safeguards for casino operations, a National Council on Problem Gambling has been formed recently to educate, assess, counsel, support and tackle gambling issues. The 15-member team consisting of experts in public communications, psychiatry and psychology, counselling and rehabilitative services, will provide advice and necessary feedback to the MCYS on education programmes in promoting public awareness on problem gambling.