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Public asked to give feedback on casino laws

Draft Bill spells out who can enter gaming houses, other conditions
By Marcel Lee Pereira

PROPOSED laws to control who can enter casinos, keep criminals out and govern how gaming is conducted are ready, and Singaporeans are invited to comment on them.

The draft laws will be posted online by Monday, and because the casino issue has stirred up much debate, the Government has asked citizens to come forward with their comments.

They will be taken into consideration when the Bill comes up for debate in Parliament, most likely in early next year.

The proposed laws, outlined in the Casino Control Bill, seek to ensure that:

# Casinos remain free from criminal influence or exploitation;

# Gaming is conducted in accordance with the laws;

# The potential of casinos to cause harm to minors, vulnerable persons and society at large is minimised.

The Bill calls for the establishment of a separate body to police the casinos – the Casino Regulatory Authority. It also outlines the powers to be given to the National Council on Problem Gambling to bar problem gamblers from entering the casinos.

The council was set up by the Government in August after months of debate over its proposal to allow casinos. Its role is to advise on public education programmes to promote awareness of gambling addiction.

The call for feedback on the proposed laws is the latest Government move to assure Singaporeans that everything is being done to ensure that casinos will not lead to a rash of social ills here, or become hotbeds of criminal activity.

This week, the National Council on Problem Gambling started a website to give Singaporeans lessons in responsible gambling.

These moves have won praise from industry watchers. Gaming analyst Jonathan Galaviz said ‘within Asia, Singapore continues to be the most responsive government to public concerns and feedback as it relates to the legalisation and regulation of the casino gaming industry’.

Officials contacted by The Straits Times urged the public to use the chance to provide feedback, but cautioned that Singaporeans must move beyond the issue of whether or not casinos should be allowed here.

That has been decided, so feedback should move forward, said Mr Ahmad Khalis, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law.

‘People should take the integrated resorts as a given, and focus on addressing social ills, such as illegal moneylenders preying on those who have just lost, and the tendency for prostitutes to hang around the casino.’

Feedback could lead to improvements in the Bill, in areas such as the casinos’ age limit, said Mr Sin Boon Ann, chairman of the GPC for Community Development, Youth and Sports.

Views can be sent via the Feedback Unit Government Consultation Portal (www.feedback.gov.sg) by Nov 11. The Home Affairs Ministry – which drew up the Bill with other government agencies – will publish a summary of the comments, together with its response, by year-end.

Gleaning feedback from all parties has been the hallmark of the Government’s roll-out of casino plans.

And casino operators have been involved in active dialogue over the parameters of the bid, noted Merrill Lynch gaming analyst Sean Monaghan.

He forecast the two casinos will each reap an annual US$1 billion (S$1.7 billion) in gaming revenue, and be among the region’s most successful. Singapore’s safe reputation, and its attractive tax rates of 5 per cent for high-rollers and 15 per cent for regular punters, will ensure the Marina Bay and Sentosa casinos will succeed, he said.

marcelp@sph.com.sg

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