Good afternoon everyone, in particular Soo Nan and Patrick, co-chairs for the Responsible Gambling Forum, members of the RG Forum, members of NCPG who are here with us today, operators, community partners, and colleagues from partner government agencies.
First and foremost, let me say that today marks a very significant milestone in our journey. We started this journey almost a year back, but when we first started this journey, we weren’t very sure if we would get this far. If we draw reference from other countries’ experiences, not many countries have a Responsible Gambling Forum. I would say that even fewer have one that really works. We are one of the few who managed to walk the journey thus far, and have been able to make it work. But this is not without a lot of hard work, and a lot of commitment by all of you who are present here today. So let me, on behalf of my colleagues from the various government agencies, thank you for your tremendous effort. Without your effort, we would not have been able to come so far.
Having said that, we know that there are still many challenges ahead. If we were to compare ourselves to what some other countries have achieved, we have taken but the first baby step in a long journey. But I am sure and confident that we will continue to do this and achieve much more for our community, so long as we continue to work together.
For us to work together – whether it is with the operators, the community partners, or the individuals – I think we must all come together to work as a team. For us to work as a team, I think the most important thing for us to understand is that we all have shared interests in getting this thing to work.
For the operators, you want your businesses to do well. But I think many of you who have spoken to me privately and publicly, shared that not only do you want your businesses to do well, you want your businesses to do good. To do good not just to minimise the harm that problem gambling might bring to society, but also to do good in other ways. You have told me that you are committed to training your employees and staff to help them identify patrons who may be at risk, so that we can extend help to them in a timely fashion. Many of you have also, on your own, committed to sending some of your staff to gain some first-hand experience in counselling, so that they can also try to help identify some of the symptoms of the problem gamblers who may be amongst us.
For the community, this is also not an easy journey for you. Many other communities in other countries have also found it very difficult to sit down together with the operators for a conversation. For us, in a uniquely Singaporean way, we have managed to do quite a bit of that. It is in the interests of community partners to work with operators, to promote education about and create awareness for responsible gambling.
At the same time, there is much more that we can do, to help educate patrons of both casinos and non-casino joints, of some of the things that they need to understand when they embark on gambling activities. It is also incumbent on us to let our public be aware of some of the social services available for them to seek help from, if they need help. Many people may still be afraid that they may be stigmatised if and when they seek help. We want to change this, and this is where community partners come in, in a very useful way, for us to reach out to those people who may need help. Perhaps not just to those who need help, but very often also to their family members and loved ones who may be the first ones to detect that they are the ones who need help.
Last but not least, the individuals are at the centre of all that we do. Individuals must not fear that they will be stigmatised when they come forward for help. Nothing will change until and unless the individual responsible undertakes actions on his or her own to come forward and seek help, and recognises that he or she may be in trouble and may require help. So what we need to do is to make available those channels of help for these individuals as and when they come forward.
I must once again congratulate the Responsible Gambling Forum for making all these efforts. Today is the culmination of many of the things that they have done in the last one year. We have sent many staff to promote awareness for responsible gambling; we have sent staff for training. But one of the most significant things that we have achieved in the last one year is that today when we talk about gambling, there is awareness that while we put in a lot of effort to promote the safeguards in the casino industry, there are other players in the industry who need to come on board as well.
It is on this note that I am very happy that today, we not only have the casino operators on board, we also have non-casino operators on board. Many of you here are from the clubs and social clubs – you too have come on board, and you too understand, appreciate, and share our concern that we all need to play our part to promote responsible gambling in our respective outlets, whether it is the casino or some of the social clubs.
There is much more that we need to do. For a start, I think there are a lot of good practices which we can share with each other. In such networking sessions, it is not always the tea that is the most important. It is the tea that allows us to network with each other, to get to know what some of the things that other clubs may have put in practice, and in turn, our clubs can do the same for our own patrons.
Likewise, many of you have initially also provided feedback that you were worried about the responsibilities that you would have to undertake if you come onboard such an initiative. Some of you highlighted that you were concerned that your staff did not have the requisite training or abilities to identify problem gamblers and provide them assistance. I am very happy that you have put all this on the table so that we can tackle these challenges collectively.
Going forward, we may even look to see how we can leverage on technology to help us identify some of the problem gamblers, or people who may be vulnerable to problem gambling and pathological gambling habits. These are all things that we can look forward to going forward, so long as each and every one of us in this room has the commitment to work together as a team for the good of the industry and for the good of the community. The two are not mutually exclusive, so that the term “responsible gambling” need not be an oxymoron in itself.
In conclusion, let me once again congratulate you for the journey that you have walked together so far. It is not easy, and it will not be easy because there are many more challenges to come. But I have every confidence that we will be able to overcome them together, because we have created an open environment where everybody can put their concerns and challenges on the table and we can share in an intimate way where we trust and respect each others’ perspectives. Most importantly, what I have seen in the past one year is the commitment on the part of all the parties that we want to work together with for a more conducive for this industry and for our society. That will require a tripartite relationship between government agencies, who are often the regulators and also the enablers for many of the actions that the community will want to do; the efforts of the community partners; and also the operators – both casino and non-casino – to work together for us to achieve this.
On that note, I wish you all the very best. Let me once again congratulate you on the launch of this Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, and may we all do great things together. Thank you.