Japanese team in Singapore to study social impact of casinos

Visitors at the casino at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), photographed on June 7, 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Visitors at the casino at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), photographed on June 7, 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

They tour IRs, meet support groups as Tokyo moves to legalise casinos

Singapore's experience with casinos has drawn visitors from Japan as the East Asian state looks to legalise casinos this month.

Some members of the Japanese Federation of Bar Association (JFBA) came here recently to study how the Republic has been preventing and managing the social fallout from gambling.

The association, which represents all 35,000 lawyers in Japan and advises the government, hopes to present its findings to Parliament before it sits on Sept 29 for a preliminary vote on a Bill to set up casinos.

"It has been said that we are likely to model ours after the integrated resorts (IRs) in Singapore," director of the association Koji Niisato told The Straits Times.

"But we are very concerned about the social problems that will arise."

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inspected Singapore's casinos in May, he had asked detractors to visit Singapore to see for themselves the Republic's success in managing its casinos and minimising the social fallout.

And some of those worried about Mr Abe's casino plans have come here, as he suggested.

The premier has included IRs as part of his growth strategy to energise the Japanese economy and attract more tourists in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There are major concerns in Japan about the ill effects of casinos, especially gambling addiction.

Although gambling is generally illegal in Japan, exceptions are made for betting on horse racing, and government-sponsored cycling and boat races.

A Japanese government study last month found that nearly 5 per cent of adults there are addicted to gambling, up to five times that of most other nations.

During a three-day visit last week, the Bar association's team of five lawyers and academics toured Singapore's two integrated resorts and met support groups for gamblers.

Mr Niisato said the team has seen two troubling signs and intend to cite them in the statement the association will issue this month to oppose the Bill.

He first noted the rapid rise in exclusion orders over the last few years.

The number of people barred from the IRs has jumped more than four times since 2011 to a high of 215,331 this year.

Mr Niisato also cited the rise in people seeking help through gambling helplines.

The National Problem Gambling Helpline has had about 21,000 calls annually for the past three years, a four-fold increase from 2009, when it was first set up.

A year after the IRs opened in 2010, the Samaritans of Singapore also reported a 50 to 60 per cent surge in gambling-related calls.

Mr Yoshida Tetsunari, a lawyer and member of the association, said Japan could adopt some Singapore-style restrictions for its casinos should these be allowed.

"The exclusion orders and hefty fines imposed on operators when they are lax are good forms of social safeguards."