SINGAPORE - Casino levies paid by Singaporeans and permanent residents (PR) here are at their lowest level since the casinos at Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands opened in 2010.
The Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) collected $134 million in casino entry levies in its last financial year, which ended in March this year - down 21 per cent from the $170 million collected in financial year (FY) 2012/2013.
The sums collected for the past five financial years were contained in the Tote Board's latest annual report, which was released on Thursday (Nov 23).
Singaporeans and PRs have to pay a $100 daily levy or $2,000 annual levy to enter a casino here.
Economist Song Seng Wun said: "The shine of the casinos and the novelty have worn off."
Also out of favour with punters - horse racing, where turnover fell from $1.6 billion in FY2012/2013 to $1.2 billion in FY2016/2017.
But the lure of 4-D, Toto and soccer betting is growing steadily with $7.2 billion spent on lotteries and sports betting in the last financial year, 15 per cent more than the $6.2 billion in FY2012/2013.
Counsellors who work with gambling addicts said fewer Singaporeans and PRs are going to the casinos here as they are put off by the need to pay an entry levy.
They added that some gamblers are opting for alternatives - illegal online casinos where gamblers can bet on credit on these websites, unlike in the casinos here where they have to fork out the cash upfront to bet.
Besides, those who have lost all their money are likely to have barred themselves or have been banned from the casinos here by their families, said Pastor Billy Lee, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services, which runs a support group for gambling addicts.
The website of the National Council on Problem Gambling shows that as of Sept 30 this year, over 25,000 Singaporeans or PRs have banned themselves from the casinos, or their families have applied for an exclusion order to ban them from entering.
And almost 47,000 are automatically excluded as they are undischarged bankrupts or are receiving government financial aid, among other reasons.
It was previously reported that Singaporeans and PRs made an average of 17,000 visits a day in 2012, down from 20,000 visits in 2010 when the casinos first opened. This is one of the few publicly available information on the number of local visitors, and is based on data contained in the 2013 Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore annual report.
Counsellors said horse racing may be out of favour because it is perceived to attract an older crowd and is harder to win.
But the sums wagered on lotteries and sports, such as soccer and motor racing, continue to climb. It has been rising each year in the Tote Board's past five financial years.
Those interviewed said the ease of access to betting outlets and the lure of million-dollar jackpots, and a quick windfall, continue to attract punters.
Mr Song said: "It's a routine for many people to buy 4-D regularly to try their luck. And you see more people joining the queue to buy 4-D and Toto."
But counsellors said the sums wagered at the legal outlets are but a fraction of the sums spent on illegal gambling. Many of the gambling addicts they see place illegal bets online.
A 79-year-old retired engineer who wants to be known as Mr Lee lost over $200,000 in just two years of gambling at the casinos here.
He started by betting on horses and 4-D, and later frequented casinos in Malaysia. But the opening of the Singapore casinos wiped out all his savings, leading him to seek out loans from 13 illegal moneylenders.
He stopped gambling four years ago as the losses mounted.
He said: "You can never win money from the casinos."
Those who need help can call the following helplines:
1. National Problem Gambling - 1800-6-668-668
2. Blessed Grace Social Services - 8428-6377