Society braces for the hidden cost

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 12:00am

What price casino revenue in a staid, squeaky-clean Asian society?

While Singapore's casinos will deliver huge economic benefits, proponents cannot deny there will be a heavy social cost.

Detractors trot out a litany of objections, saying casinos will lead to crime, erode family values and tear apart the social fabric.

Some may well be playing the devil's advocate but these are valid concerns. Indeed, the social costs of gambling are already evident.

A government survey shows 58 per cent of Singaporeans aged 18 and above gambled last year. Two in 100 will become addicted.

One such addict, Simon Lee, was found dead at the foot of his block of flats in February. His wife and two children were found dead in their flat.

Meanwhile, one of the world's highest rollers is serving a 42-year jail sentence in Singapore.

Chia Teck Leng, a former finance manager of Asia Pacific Breweries (Singapore), perpetrated one of the biggest commercial frauds in Singapore, cheating four international banks out of S$117 million ($553.75 million) to fund global gambling sprees.

Those who must have a flutter can already avail themselves of the many forms of legalised gambling available in Singapore: Toto (akin to Hong Kong's Mark Six), horse racing and football betting. Then there are the slot machines at private clubs. Furthermore, gamblers can, and do, cruise into international waters, travel to Genting Highlands in Malaysia or fly to Australia or Macau.

However, the government has not let its guard down entirely. Citizens and permanent residents will have to pay an entrance fee of S$100 a day or S$2,000 a year to enter a casino. Foreigners can enter free of charge.

The fees may deter some from visiting these new dens of iniquity but those who can afford to gamble may not feel the pinch.

The die is cast but Singapore's casinos will not be to the taste of every Tan, Lim and Lee.