Operational controls over casinos eased

The government has decided to relax some controls over the casino operators of the two proposed integrated resorts in Singapore, like removing limits on the number of hours that a casino can operate.

On the other end, it is setting up a new statutory board called the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA).

The CRA, to be set up 12 to 18 months before the first casino opens, will have investigative and enforcement powers and will be empowered to approve various aspects of casino operations.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said the relaxation of controls took into account feedback and suggestions from investors on matters that may interfere with their day-to-day operations.

Mr Wong believes the supervision and regulation of the casinos will not be compromised by the changes.

Parliament also debated the Casino Control Bill which seeks to provide an environment where integrated resorts can thrive while keeping Singapore’s social and law and order problems at bay.

The integrated resorts may spell big money for Singapore but also signal big trouble if not enough measures are taken to mitigate the social ills that may come with the resorts.

The Bill will provide the legislative and regulatory framework to ensure that criminal activities associated with casino operations do not take root here.

Mr Wong said: „Only suitable persons will be licensed to operate the casino or to work in positions of influence in the casino.

„The considerations of ’suitability‘ include whether the applicant is of good repute with regard to character, honesty and integrity, and has the ability to work in the capacity that he or she has applied for.

„For applicants who wish to operate the casino, the applicant must also demonstrate that he has a sound and stable financial background.“

To ensure that casino operators are legitimate and that there are no undesirable influence over the casino’s operations, shareholders taking a 5%, 12% or 20% stake in the casino operator will have to seek approval from the Home Affairs Minister.

Under the Casino Control Bill, the casino operator must also ensure that prostitution and illegal money lending activities do not take place within its premises.

Social safeguards are also put in place.

The government has decided to keep the entry levy fee at USD 100 per 24 hours and USD 2,000 per year, to send the message that gambling is an expense and not a means to get rich.

This decision follows feedback that resulted from public consultation last year.

A study conducted by the Commercial Affairs Department on prison inmates who had committed commercial crimes also revealed that they got hooked on problem gambling after experiencing the euphoric feeling when they won.

Others gambled to relieve stress.

Mr Wong, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, said: „Based on this study, there seems to be a point beyond which some casual and recreational gamblers begin to slide down the slippery slope to become compulsive and pathological gamblers.

„It is therefore vital that those who choose to gamble are aware of the vital signs so that they can seek help before their habits get out of control.“

The Casino Control Bill also seeks to limit losses, so casinos cannot extend credit to Singaporeans and PRs, unless they’re premium players and already have at least a USD 100,000 credit balance with the operator.

Another safeguard that will be implemented is the prohibition of automated teller machines or ATMs within the casino premises.

This is to prevent patrons from having access to their savings accounts to gamble continuously or to chase their losses.

Various bodies will also be empowered to impose Exclusion Orders, to prevent vulnerable gamblers from entering the casinos.

Family members and even those with gambling problems themselves can also apply to be excluded.

Minister Wong said: „The Government decided to allow two integrated resorts with casinos to be built in Singapore because we assessed that there are significant economic and tourism benefits if the integrated resorts succeed and take off in a big way.

„We will help provide the environment to help the industry succeed. However, this must not and need not come with heavy costs to our society or the law and order situation.