THERE has been a spike in the number of people being banned from casinos in the past year.
More than 15,600 were issued third-party exclusion orders for the 10 months leading to March, taking the total to 43,519, about 11/2 times the 27,882 at the end of May last year.
The increase came largely as a result of some 15,000 people being banned by the Government because they were receiving financial aid from the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) ComCare, or had defaulted on the Housing Board's rental payments.
A person will be removed from the exclusion list once he stops receiving financial aid or has settled rental arrears, said the National Council on Problem Gambling, which released the figures recently.
The number of voluntary self-exclusion orders for foreigners also climbed to 92,744 in March, from 55,515 last May.
The council said this type of exclusion has been gaining ground among foreign workers, which employers attributed to more companies encouraging their workers to apply for the order.
Some have even made it a hiring requirement, saying that it is a preventive measure to protect workers from the ills of gambling, since they do not have to pay the $100 casino entry levy that Singaporeans have to pay.
At HEC Electrical & Construction, for instance, all but one of the 150 or so foreign workers have applied for the order, said its finance and human resource manager, Ms Eliza Fong.
"They all understand that the company does not encourage gambling as it may lead to absenteeism and debtors calling up the office," she said. "For the one worker who refused, we monitor him closely for signs of gambling."
Others believe that workers should not be forced to ban themselves from casinos to keep their jobs.
"It's against their basic rights to control where they go," said Mr Yeow Kian Seng, managing director of Lucky Joint Construction. "Some of my workers told me they just want to go there on their day off to have a look."
Some counsellors believe that total bans may be needed only for the most incorrigible gamblers. They say that an upcoming measure to cap casino visits is a more balanced approach, as it would allow a gambler to control his habit.
The MSF said last year that it was looking into imposing a limit on the number of times a frequent gambler can visit a casino. More details are expected by next month.
Still, the new move has raised some concerns.
Ms Jolene Ong, executive director of The Silver Lining, which runs gambling rehabilitation programmes, said a cap could drive punters to wager higher stakes or stay longer to make the most of their time.
The Government said last year that a curb on visits may be turned into an exclusion order if needed.
Former gambler Chiu Whye Leong, 32, who now works in a social enterprise that helps at-risk youth and former offenders, said the deterrent effect of a possible ban is strong.
"They will think twice before gaming the system because they wouldn't want to risk being banned totally," he noted.
Mr Chan Boon Huat from One Hope Centre, which counsels gambling addicts, feels that converting exclusion orders to visit limits should also be considered.
"The reward of the occasional visit may motivate gamblers to keep their gambling in check," he said. "But ultimately, we should look at changing the gamblers' hearts by introducing mandatory counselling with the visit limits."