SINGAPORE - Local gamblers who pay for an unlimited number of visits in a year to casinos in Singapore tend to have higher incomes, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Monday (May 6).
"For these affluent individuals who want to visit casinos often, the annual entry levy provides convenience" and it would remain for now, she said in response to Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), who wants the annual levy removed to minimise problem gambling.
The entry fees to the casinos have been raised, a move announced last month when the Government made public the $9 billion expansion plans of the two Integrated Resorts (IR) here in exchange for the exclusivity period to operate a casino to end-2030.
The daily casino entry levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents has been raised from $100 to $150 and the annual levy, from $2,000 to $3,000.
Mrs Teo, who is also Manpower Minister, pointed out that between 2010 - when the IRs started operations - and 2018, the number of local visitors to the casino has declined by 50 per cent.
Based on the National Council on Problem Gambling's Gambling Participation Survey done every three years, the probable problem and pathological gambling rate of Singapore residents had fallen from 2.6 per cent in 2011 to 0.9 per cent in 2017.
She said other social safeguards were in place to minimise problem gambling, in addition to the levies, 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.
Replying to questions from Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) about casino-related crime, Mrs Teo noted the annual number of casino crimes has fallen about 58 per cent - from 299 cases in 2010 to 126 in 2018.
Most of the crimes are petty theft and cheating cases, and there have been fewer than 20 cases in the last decade attributed to syndicates.
The amounts of money involved in these cases ranged between $14,000 and $1.3 million, she added.
Mrs Teo assured Mr Pillai the authorities will keep a close eye on the possibility of syndicates: "In this case, the operators obviously have an interest... so they are minded to work with the police to stamp out infiltration of organised crime."
Separately, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, in his reply to Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), said Singapore's casino safeguards were "among the most stringent in the world".
"We take a preventive approach by disallowing the most financially vulnerable people from entering the casinos," he said. For example, undischarged bankrupts, those receiving financial aid or living in HDB rental flats and have six months or more of rental arrears are barred from entering casinos and betting online with Singapore Pools.
The council for problem gambling can also limit the number of visits a person can make to a casino each month, while locals can voluntarily exclude themselves from casinos, fruit machine rooms in private clubs or from opening an online account with Singapore Pools.
These measures have helped reduce problem gambling in the resident population to only 1 per cent, Mr Lee said.
But he added that every family that suffers is one too many. The authorities will work with the IRs to implement technology to give patrons information to let them make informed decisions on their bets and better control their gambling expenditure.
They will also work with the casinos to strengthen training for staff to better identify those at risk of gambling problems, he said.