Fewer S'poreans gambling; addiction chances remain low

Those working with problem gamblers say this may be due to Covid-19 limiting opportunities

The survey showed a decrease in those who took part in at least one form of gambling activity in the past year, compared with the 2017 survey. This decrease was observed across most demographic groups and gambling products such as 4-D and Toto.
The survey showed a decrease in those who took part in at least one form of gambling activity in the past year, compared with the 2017 survey. This decrease was observed across most demographic groups and gambling products such as 4-D and Toto.LIANHE WANBAO FILE PHOTO

Fewer Singaporeans are gambling, while the number of those likely to have gambling addictions remains low, according to the latest survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) released yesterday.

This decrease could partly be due to Covid-19 restrictions limiting access to gambling opportunities, said those who work with problem gamblers.

The 2020 edition of the survey found that 44 per cent of Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 18 and above polled said they had taken part in at least one form of gambling activity in the past year, down from 52 per cent in the 2017 survey.

This decrease was observed across most demographic groups and gambling products such as 4-D, Toto and social gambling.

The decrease is statistically significant, said the council, which has conducted the survey of 3,000 people every three years since 2005 to find out the extent and pattern of gambling here.

But it noted that the percentage of the population that gambles has remained around 50 per cent since the first survey was done.

4-D continued to be the most popular game among those polled, similar to the 2017 survey.

Some 34 per cent placed a wager on 4-D, followed by Toto (31 per cent) and social gambling (16 per cent). Just 1 per cent bet on horses or tried their luck at the jackpots in casinos here, while 0.3 per cent gambled online.

The survey also found that the median monthly betting amounts of gamblers decreased from $30 in 2017 to $15 last year, with 89 per cent of gamblers betting $100 or less a month.

A very small proportion (0.3 per cent) gambled with large amounts - average monthly betting amount of more than $1,000.

Due to Covid-19, there were restrictions on gambling activities during the period of survey as gambling operations such as casinos and Singapore Pools were suspended at points last year.

A Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) spokesman said: "Even though we had adjusted the survey to minimise the impact of these restrictions, they may still have affected responses."

Ms Tham Yuen Han, executive director of We Care Community Services, which runs support groups for gambling addicts, said another factor for the decrease could be that since the survey is based on self-reported data of the respondents, those with more compulsive gambling habits would have resorted to alternatives, such as illegal underground channels.

The report also found that the overall probable pathological and problem gambling rates among Singapore residents remained low at 1.2 per cent. Pathological gambling indicates more severe addiction compared with problem gambling.

The report said: "Nonetheless, problem gambling remains a concern. NCPG and MSF will continue to work together to tackle problem gambling."

Ms Tham said that the stereotype of a gambling addict is that of an older male adult from a lower educational background and lower socioeconomic status. "This stereotype is being challenged by the proliferation of digital media platforms and our increasing pace of technology adoption."

We Care is beginning to see a shift in the profile in the last two years, which now includes professionals, people with tertiary education, and across a much wider age range - from those in their early 20s to those above 50.

NCPG and MSF are also keeping an eye on new gambling trends.

The MSF spokesman said that the lines between online gaming and gambling have become increasingly blurred, and there is also a prevalence of online sports betting. NCPG has also intensified efforts to better engage youth via social media, in-campus activities and competitions to educate them on gambling prevention and gambling risks in online games.

Fei Yue Community Services' head of youth services Wong Ying Li said that since 2014, Fei Yue has conducted gambling awareness talks in schools to educate and warn youth of new gambling trends.

The talks have now evolved to educate youth of the subtle elements of gambling in games that can become addictive, and how game makers will have the advantage in these games, Ms Wong added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2021, with the headline 'Fewer S'poreans gambling; addiction chances remain low'. Subscribe