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Business Times - 13 Jul 2011

Bets don't pay off for many in Singapore

They gamble online and in casinos but their losses have widened: report


(SINGAPORE) Singaporeans - already ranked among the world's biggest gamblers before Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) opened - racked up even more losses in 2010 than the previous year.

According to UK-based gaming consultancy H2 Gambling Capital, gambling losses incurred per adult resident in Singapore jumped to S$1,413 in 2010, up 53 per cent from S$924 in 2009, and S$928 in 2008. For 2011, that figure is expected to climb to S$1,849, said Joel Keeble, H2 Gambling's head of special projects.

The gaming consultancy - which used figures taken from primary operators and official government sources for its study of more than 200 countries - calculated losses by the stakes or bets placed minus the prizes paid.

But he noted that Singapore, since 2002, has consistently ranked second (except in 2004) in terms of gambling losses incurred per adult resident even before the opening of the two integrated resorts (IRs). 'This is due to betting machines and lottery all being easily available to a relatively wealthy population in a region where there is a high propensity to gamble.'

In 2010, land-based gross gambling yield or total revenues from gambling at physical locations such as casinos, shops, race tracks minus prizes paid out (but before operational costs and taxes) were at S$7.6 billion, the study found. Interactive gross gambling yield or total revenues from online gambling via a PC/laptop or mobile device were at S$400.5 million, the study found.

Macau, currently the world's biggest gaming market, didn't make the list because a large proportion of its gaming revenue came from non-residents, and the split isn't available, Mr Keeble said.

The study covers all aspects of licensed gambling from betting on horses to casino gambling, gaming machines and public lotteries. Losses incurred through unlicensed activity have not been included, Mr Keeble said.

'The dataset covers 200 countries with thousands of data points,' he said. 'The numbers are derived from a variety of sources including publicly available information, information gained privately and forecasts based on our experience of the market.'

Online betting along with casino gambling and games such as poker and bingo were among gambling activities Singaporeans most engaged in, the study found.

But with the opening of the two casinos, online betting as a percentage of total gaming activity in Singapore dipped to 5.1 per cent in 2010 from 8.65 per cent in 2009, the study said.

While Singapore's laws on online gambling remain unclear, public gambling is still an offence. According to the Singapore Law Review, the Casino Control Act regulates local casinos and licensing, but doesn't seem to have any tangible effect on online gaming. That's because most of the online gaming operators tend to be foreigners who have registered their sites overseas, so it's hard to determine if online gaming in this context is illegal, the review said.

Since the opening of the two casinos, the number of casino exclusion orders has also risen. Of a total of 3,519 self-exclusion orders issued by Dec 31, 2010, 89.5 per cent, or 3,149, were signed after the opening of Singapore's first casino, Resorts World Sentosa, in February 2010, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Of a total of 297 family exclusion orders issued by Dec 31, 2010, 88 per cent, or 262, were signed after RWS's opening. Most applications for family exclusion orders were from spouses of gamblers, followed by parents, children and siblings.

A total of 27,500 Singaporeans are on third-party exclusion orders because they have either filed for bankruptcy or are on public assistance.

But these measures appear to have done little to dampen enthusiasm for gambling, with Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, forecasting that Singapore's gaming revenue could hit US$6.4 billion in 2011 - outstripping Las Vegas, which earned US$5.8 billion in 2010. Singapore's two casinos posted US$5.1 billion in gaming revenues in 2010, their first year of operation.