Families can now seek casino ban

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Counselling will be a key safeguard before a no-entry order is slapped
By Theresa Tan

SINGAPORE’S latest move to control gambling addiction ahead of the opening of the two casinos – allowing families to apply to have loved ones barred from gaming tables there – took effect yesterday.

The introduction of ‘family exclusion orders’ makes Singapore only the second place after the state of South Australia to have such a social safeguard, said the National Council on Problem Gambling.

To get someone banned, families will have to file applications at the Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre (FSC).

They will have to tell counsellors and a committee appointed by the council how the gambler’s actions have hurt them – by plunging them into financial hardship, for example.

Once issued, the orders are permanent, and can be revoked only if the family or the gambler applies to do so, and the council agrees.

Before anyone is banned, both the gambler and his family will be counselled.

If the family decides to go ahead with the application, they will be interviewed by a committee of assessors before the order is granted.

The orders are part of a number of social safeguards to ensure that the arrival of casinos does not result in more gambling problems. Other moves include imposing a levy for local residents who go to the casinos.

Still to come later this year: voluntary self-exclusion and third-party exclusion orders, where undischarged bankrupts and those receiving public assistance will be barred from the casinos.

Singapore will be the first in the world to have third-party exclusion orders, and the council estimates that about 29,000 people will be barred under them.

Asked why counselling is needed before family exclusion orders are approved, council chairman Lim Hock San said: ‘Often, families with problem gambling issues have more immediate financial and stress issues to manage, and if these are not tackled at the same time, the family may not be able to cope emotionally and financially.’

Mr Charles Lee, a senior counsellor at the Tanjong Pagar FSC, said counselling will also help a gambler realise how he has hurt his loved ones, and try to get him to take responsibility for his actions.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, a psychiatrist and addictions expert, said such a screening process would also weed out serious applicants from frivolous ones.

Serial gambler Robin (not his real name) said he expected his siblings would want him banned from the casinos.

The 54-year-old ex-bookie lost more than $150,000 betting on soccer, horses, and other games, and owes a few loansharks more than $10,000.

Said the bachelor: ‘I thought gambling could be my job. But it has ruined my life. I lost my house and almost lost the support of my family. Now, I’m as good as destitute.’

If South Australia’s experience is any guide, however, Singapore will see few applications for family exclusion orders. In the four years up to last June, there were 18 applications for such orders in the Australian state, and only eight were issued. The rest were dismissed or withdrawn.

National Council on Problem Gambling member Mildred Tan said some Singapore families may be reluctant to seek a ban because taking such a step might strain ties beyond breaking point.

But she added: ‘Whatever the number that comes, we will offer all the help we can to start the healing process.’

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