Dr Tan Wu Meng
To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development:
(a) Over the past one year, what proportion of problem gambling cases has a history of online gambling;
(b) What proportion of cases is primarily online gambling;
(c) What proportion of cases has found online gambling to be a gateway to offline gambling; and
(d) What are the safeguards which the Ministry will introduce to safeguard the public from the harm of online gambling should local betting providers enter the sector.
Problem gamblers and their families can seek help through the National Council on Problem Gambling, or approach other avenues like the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) at the Institute of Mental Health directly. There are also other community and religious organisations that offer help services for gambling addiction. The list of help services is available on the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) website.
Thye Hua Kwan saw 287 problem gambling cases in 2015; NAMS saw 370 new cases between April 2015 and March 2016. Based on an on-going project conducted by NAMS to monitor 114 patients’ progress in treatment outcome in FY15, 39.5% reported involvement in online gambling. As problem gamblers tend to be involved in both online and offline gambling, it is difficult to delineate the cases that are primarily due to online gambling or where online gambling is a gateway to offline gambling.
MSF has worked closely with MHA to develop a range of social safeguards for the exempt operators to implement, to protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from the harms of remote gambling.
To prevent youth gambling, all account holders must be at least 21 years old before they can open a remote gambling account. The exempt operators (EOs) have to carry out stringent checks to verify the identity of the applicant, such as a face-to-face verification at physical outlets with a valid NRIC/FIN, and screening of existing casino exclusions with the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), before an account can be opened.
To protect financially vulnerable individuals, persons who have been excluded from casinos due to family objection or their financial situation, will not be allowed to open an account. Individuals can also apply to exclude themselves from remote gambling.
To prevent over-spending and addiction, all account holders will be required to set a daily expenditure limit and funding limit before they are allowed to place bets. Funding limit means the maximum amount that can be transferred or deposited into the account per calendar day, while expenditure limit means the maximum amount that can be used for betting per calendar day. Once they have reached their expenditure limits, they will no longer be allowed to place any bets for the rest of the day. As an additional safeguard, any request to increase their expenditure limit will only take place the next day, while requests to reduce their expenditure limit will be effective immediately.
To facilitate informed play, the EOs are required to display responsible gambling messages prominently, such as the time and amount spent, the total win/losses for the day, and alert the individual if he has reached or exceeded 75% of his daily expenditure limit.
Lastly, the EOs will be required to submit all advertising and promotions (A&P) materials to MSF for approval. Advertisements and promotions must not induce gambling.
NCPG has been active in rolling out prevention programmes to complement the stringent safeguards for remote gambling. For example, NCPG partners TOUCH Cyber Wellness and Fei Yue Community Services to deliver cyber wellness roadshows and talks to students and parents. NCPG also launches public education campaigns and videos to highlight the risks of problem gambling. One of the recent videos has a backdrop of sports betting and illegal online betting, to educate youths on spotting the signs of problem gambling and helping their friends in need. Another features popular getai MC Wang Lei relating his struggles with problem gambling and the importance of family support in helping him recover from problem gambling.
While the Government puts in place stringent safeguards, complemented with NCPG’s public education efforts, personal responsibility as well as family and community support are still essential to address this complex issue of problem gambling.