-- Singapore to bar about 15,000 more citizens and permanent residents from its casinos
-- The move widens existing casino-entry ban for "financially vulnerable" locals, currently imposed on 28,000 people
-- Wider ban follows government pledges in February to step up efforts to reduce social impact of casino gambling
(Updates with background on official gambling survey in second and ninth paragraphs, background on past measures in fifth, seventh, eighth paragraphs, and background on Singapore's gaming industry in 10th and 11th paragraphs.)
By Chun Han Wong
SINGAPORE--Singapore will bar from its two casinos about 15,000 more citizens and permanent residents, including low-income and unemployed people receiving state welfare aid, as part of efforts to contain the social impact of casino gambling in the city-state.
The move, announced late Thursday, comes after an official survey published February showed more instances of heavy gambling among low-income players in 2011 compared with 2008--a finding that prompted government pledges then to do more to reduce gambling among the poor.
Starting July 1, about 12,000 residents receiving short- to medium-term financial support from the government will be barred from the casinos, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports said in a statement. Authorities will also bar, starting Aug. 1, about 3,000 public-housing tenants who are in arrears of six or more months on their subsidized rental payments, the ministry added.
"We want to protect the financially vulnerable who can ill afford casino gambling," acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said in the Thursday statement.
First proposed by the government in February, the new exclusion orders widen an existing state-imposed casino-entry ban on 28,000 people here, comprising bankrupts and people receiving long-term government financial aid.
As at May 31, the authorities have also barred 1,083 people at their families' request and 64,064 people--locals and foreigners--who had volunteered to be excluded.
Singapore allowed casino gambling in 2005 as it sought to spice up its attractiveness as a travel destination and reap more tourism dollars. The island state's first licensed casino resorts--Genting Singapore PLC's (G13.SG) Resorts World Sentosa and Las Vegas Sands Corp.'s (LVS) Marina Bay Sands--opened in early 2010.
Opponents of the casinos cited a potential rise in social problems like organized crime and gambling addiction. To contain the impact, the government imposed measures including a minimum age of 21 years for all casino patrons, casino-entry levies on citizens and permanent residents of 100 Singapore dollars a day and S$2,000 annually, and social programs to discourage heavy gambling.
More restrictions have since been added, including bans on casino advertising that targets residents. Authorities have also hinted at additional measures in future, like placing loss-limiting "circuit breakers" on local frequent gamblers.
These measures may have had some effect. According to the official survey, the overall gambling rate among locals, ages 18 and above, fell to 47% in 2011 from 54% in 2008. But the survey also suggested that more low-income players were betting large sums, while frequent gamblers are playing more often.
Regardless, Singapore's fledging gaming market has grown strongly since the two casinos opened. Some analysts expect the city-state's gross casino gambling revenue to rival or exceed that generated on the Las Vegas Strip this year.
Citigroup projects Singapore's 2012 gross casino gambling revenue to hit $6.4 billion, up from about $6 billion in 2011, and compared with the Las Vegas Strip's forecast $6.2 billion for this year.
This growth is largely driven by foreigners--the government previously said Singapore citizens and permanent residents account for between 20% and 30% of all casino visitors here, while visits by locals to both casinos has fallen.
Local visitors to Resorts World Sentosa's casino fell 32% in 2011 to 136,434 from 199,783 in 2010, while Marina Bay Sands reported a 9% decline for the same period--137,259 locals visited its casino last year, compared with 150,691 in 2010.
Write to Chun Han Wong at email@example.com