Catholic Church urges Government to monitor gambling situation

People walking past the casino at Marina Bay Sands.
People walking past the casino at Marina Bay Sands.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Catholic Church has urged the authorities to closely monitor their recent move to allow two lottery operators in Singapore to offer online betting services.

A statement to the Catholic community issued by Archbishop William Goh on Wednesday (Oct 12) urged them to take "all necessary measures to help those who may fall victim to online gambling".

It said that the church has also requested for more regular consultations and updates on the consequences of the Government's decision.

Archbishop Goh said the church shares the concerns of many Singaporeans on the moral and social implications of gambling on society, "especially on the family and in particular on the impending invasion of this potential vice into the sacred space of our homes".

This is the second statement from a religious body commenting on the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) nod in September to allow Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club to start running online betting platforms in the next two months.

The National Council of Churches Singapore, which represents more than 250 churches, called for a review of the Government's decision on Oct 5.

The authorities' approval had come following applications by the Singapore-based lottery operators to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act that was passed by Parliament two years ago. The Act outlaws all online and phone betting activities.

Singapore Pools will launch its online betting services on Oct 25, and the Turf Club will offer its new Web and mobile platform on Nov 15. Punters can place bets for 4-D, Toto, football, F1 sports and horse racing.

Archbishop Goh said the Church appreciates that the Government has done its due diligence to ensure that stringent measures are put in place to minimise the ill-effects of online gambling.

For instance, the MHA had said that operators will have to put in place safeguards, such as allowing only those above 21 to open accounts.

Archbishop Goh said the church has nevertheless urged the Government to continually review these safeguards to ensure that they "keep pace with developments in the online and social environment" so that they remain effective in protecting individuals from falling into financial difficulty.

"Games of chance or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice… (but) they become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others," he noted.

"Family life and loving marriages can be destroyed or disrupted by the loss of income which could lead to stress, other mental health issues and even suicide.

"In an attempt to pay up mounting debt; theft, drug trafficking, cheating and even prostitution are desperate measures taken by gamblers who feel they have no other means out of their situation."

In this respect, he said that the Catholic Church remains concerned about the possible ill-effects of a "gambling culture" that could grip Singaporeans.

Archbishop Goh said that active citizenry is needed in tackling societal ills.

He said: "As (a) church, it behooves us to not only speak out against any moves that threaten to destroy the well-being of our families, but more importantly, to work with those in charge to find lasting solutions to the problems facing our society."