Thursday, July 15, 2010

Singapore's Addiction to Gambling - in More Ways than One

In the news recently:

MORE problem gamblers sought medical treatment and help last year compared to three years ago.

Fresh figures from the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) showed that 17 per cent of patients seen in 2009 were gambling addicts, compared to 5 per cent in 2007. Nams treats about 2,000 patients a year.

Gambling addiction cases are among the top three form of addictions treated by Nams. Drug and alcohol addiction cases make up about 80 per cent of Nams case workload.

Speaking at the official launch of the Nams clinic at Buangkok Green Medical Park on Wednesday, Associate Professor Wong Kim Eng, Clinical Director of Nams, said the rise in gambling addiction cases is likely due to the increased awareness of Nams and its treatment programmes.

Nams has been operating from its dedicated outpatient clinic since June last year and provides services such as psychiatric assessment, counselling, and support groups for patients and families.

Singapore is getting more and more addicted to gambling in more ways than one.

Firstly, you have the obvious rise of problem gamblers as part of the social cost of the newly opened integrated resorts. While the IRs may have helped Singapore to post record-breaking GDP growth numbers this year, more and more Singaporeans are facing gambling addiction. Anecdotally, a friend of mine working in the psychiatric ward of NUH reports that there has been a massive jump in problem gambling cases being admitted to the hospital.

It is not just the gamblers themselves who suffer, the families of the gamblers pay an even higher social cost. Mothers have to suffer to pay the debts of their husbands, children have to drop out of school because their parents cannot afford school fees. Families break down and social cohesion is weakened.

So much for the $100 levy which was meant to 'protect' Singaporeans from themselves. At the end of the day nobody really believes it does what it is supposed to do, and everybody knows that it is just another tool for the government to collect more revenue from Singaporeans, just like the ERP and COE.

On top of the local problem gamblers you see stories of foreigners being caught and jailed for stealing and cheating in the casinos, so not only are we creating problems for ourselves, we are importing them as well!

Secondly, Singapore is being addicted to 'gambling' in the sense that the government is addicted to the kind of foreign factor inflows that the IR type industries require, in order to deliver GDP growth. Instead of depending on a growth of local factor productivity, the PAP has become addicted to the influx of foreign capital and foreign labour to sustain its growth-at-all-costs policy, even when it does not benefit ordinary Singaporeans.

Thirdly, Singapore is addicted to the biggest casino of all - the financial markets. We are massively dependent on the financial sector as an outsized component of our economy, and have made such a big push into private banking, which in many ways is just like the gambling business - only that the gamblers in this industry can delude themselves into thinking that they are 'sophisticated investors'.

Students nowadays who are unable to become doctors or lawyers or scholars, all want to work for the big investments banks. Many engineers and computer science graduates want to make the switch into the banking industry because of the perceived prestige of the industry.

This multi-pronged addiction to gambling is only growing with time - we are building a more imbalanced, lopsided, and increasingly fragile society. Sooner or later something has to give because such a path is fundamentally unsustainable.

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