Casinos in Integrated Resorts     综 合 度 假 村 赌 场

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) (in Mandarin): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the pot of porridge that was being cooked by the MTI Minister one month ago is now ready and is being served on the dining table. The Government said that certain medicine with special efficacy has been added to the porridge, and it can better fill our stomachs.

Notwithstanding the fact that this special medicine may cause some of our people to suffer diarrhoea, dehydration and even lose their lives, PM Lee said that for the collective interest of our people, even if they have objections, they have to swallow it and he will do what is necessary for the after-care.

For the last few months, Singaporeans, including the Workers’ Party, who opposed this idea have expressed their concerns. All that needs to be said has already been said. The Government sought the opinion of the people but it does not go along with the opinion of the people and it has now made a unilateral decision. Eventually, will it turn out to be a blessing or a curse to our people? We have to wait and see.

When the Government announced this decision, it tried to package it and has brought forward some specious arguments. First, the Government said that the casino is only a small portion of the integrated resort. We cannot reject the IR just because of this casino component, considering that the IR is the trump card in the development of tourism. This is just an attempt to divert the people's attention. If the IR is the most important part, then why do we not just have an integrated resort? If it is said that building an integrated resort without a casino is not feasible, then the key consideration is really on the casino. In other words, the investors' real interest is in the casino that can bring huge profits to them. So long as the Government allows them to build the casino, it will have an integrated resort to boost tourism without having to pay a single cent.

However, the PAP Government, which has never allowed its people to have free lunches, should know very clearly that nothing can come so cheap and easy to them. If you allow them to build a casino, you have to pay a social cost and the Government is prepared to pay the cost, allowing our people to suffer the damages that may be brought about by the casino. On the other hand, the Government will just sit back and reap the harvest without having to pay a single cent and yet have this integrated resort to boost its tourism.
Secondly, the Government said the problem that can be brought about by the casino is not a big one. We have not seen the problem, but the Government is already saying that the problem is not great. The Government bases its premise on a survey that shows only 2.1% of our people are problem gamblers. Furthermore, in any event, Singaporeans are already gambling. It is just that we do not have a casino here yet. The logic is that since they are gambling, whether they gamble at the casino or at the betting station or the Turf Club, there is no difference. If we use the same logic, then since our people are smoking, we should also allow the people to take drugs and legalise it. We all know that there is a great difference in the attraction, excitement and the thrill between buying lottery and gambling in the casino, just as smoking and taking drugs are two different matters altogether.

In 1999, a report by National Gambling Impact Study Commission appointed by the United States Government pointed out that within the radius of 50 miles, the number of pathological gamblers is double that of the national average. The Australian Productivity Commission also published a report in 1999 confirming that proximity of the casino to the residential areas has a direct effect on the rise of social problems relating to Gambling.

Thirdly, the Government said that we will have adequate measures to mitigate the impact of gambling on our people. We all know that the PAP Government has all along been practising stern and serious governance, adopting the policy of having the family as a nucleus and advocating the Confucian traditional values in our society. Now they are allowing casinos. In future, if they are pressurised because of the changing environment, will the Government not relax the safeguards, citing pragmatic need and people’s maturity as its rationale? Moreover, by that time, people are used to frequenting the casinos and accustomed to all the problems that are created by the casinos. They will accept the fact that this is a matter of course. This will indeed be lamentable!

A few days back, PM Lee's younger sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling wrote to the Straits Times' Forum page. She openly criticised the so-called "successful" surgery carried out in the Singapore general Hospital in 2001 to separate a pair of Nepalese Siamese twins and said that it was indeed a mistake. This could serve as a useful reference in the Casino case. The sisters are now five years old. One became a vegetable and the other has yet to walk. The grandfather of the sisters said that their future is very bleak. Dr Lee felt that at that time, had we allowed the sisters to pass away naturally, the family would be better off. They could have gone along to have more healthy children and live a normal life without having to go into the predicament they suffer today.

No doubt this separation of the twins was a breakthrough in our medical sciences in Singapore and we have made a reputation in the world-wide medical fraternity. But the ultimate duty of a doctor is to safeguard the well-being of the patients. Judging from the suffering of the sisters and their family members, this surgery is really a mistake from the beginning. Analogically, a government has the responsibility to maintain good social character and value, and the people’s well being should be the ultimate consideration in deciding whether to go ahead with the casino project.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who was then the CEO of the Singapore General Hospital, is now in the Cabinet which collectively made the decision to open the casinos. This casino decision is similar to that of separating the twins, the difference is that the sisters may leave this world soon if the procedure was not carried out, but are we saying that if we do not have a casino, our economy will collapse and that Singapore will have no future?

Just like the Singapore General Hospital has its own consideration at that time, but ultimately, the risk was undertaken by the patients. Would the economic benefit that is going to be brought about by the casino in the long term cover the social costs? We cannot tell. The Government would have no control over it. In order to attract more tourists, more budget surpluses, the Government is leading our people into taking this risky path. Do we have no other alternative but to open a casino, without which we would have to just sit still and wait for the end of our day?

The Government has always emphasised that family unit should be the fundamental core to our society, thus it has been harsh in implementing policies such as barring single mothers from applying for HDB flats and negating homosexuality, etc. Then, why is the Government now taking this risk to open casinos in Singapore which could destroy thousands of families here ?
Not long ago, I asked the Government to review its social safety net and enhance the welfare for our people, The Government said that it would erode our people's work ethics and bluntly brushed it aside. Would not the opening of the casino undermine the diligence of our people too?

The government also argued that by having a casino, it will encourage our people to be responsible individually and enhance our maturity as a society. Again, the government has abdicated its responsibility to safeguard good social character and value.
From all this inconsistent logic, we can see that the basic trait of this Government is one which will weigh economic profit above everything else.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, we are now being pushed into the surgical theatre although there is no life-threatening crisis, and we are even not given the right to sign a consent form., forced to undergo a surgical operation which shows no definite long term benefit but high risks. We try hard to struggle but failed to escape. The only thing we could do now is to take care of the aftercare work and mitigate the adverse effect of gambling on our people. We should actually learn from other countries.

In 1997, Michael Belletire, the Chairman of the Illinois Gambling Effects Commission concluded that the Government should legislate to regulate the casino operators, and that such regulations should include the following:

(1) Establish an independent agency to over-see the gambling industry, such as issuing of licence, promulgation of regulations, etc.;
(2) Control the expansion of the gambling industry, and strictly confine the casinos to certain localities;
(3) Investigate into the political and financial background of the casino operators to ensure that they are proper ;
(4) Approve the list of casino management staff, and allow the regulator to investigate into their background;
(5) Issue permits for suitable people to work at the casino;
(6) Strictly ensure that the operators abide by the regulations laid down by the authority;
(7) Empower the regulator to conduct surprise raids on the premises;
(8) Punish and indict anyone who violates the regulations;
(9) Supervise to ensure fair-play in the gambling process to protect the interest of the customers;
(10) Require the operators to disclose the source of their capital; and
(11) Carry out public education to prevent gamblers from being addicted. Counsel and help the addicts. This may include mandatory public education and counselling of the casino staff.

I think the Government should also look into the confession of Mr Chia Teck Leng, the former Financial Manager of Asia Pacific Breweries who wrecked his future through compulsive gambling, and his suggestions based on his own painful experience.

Since the people is unable to stop the Government from opening the casino, what we can do now is to try our best to ensure that the Government will proceed with and complete the legislation to regulate the casino. Yesterday, the Minister for Home Affairs said that the Government would set up a supervisory agency to oversee the operation of the casino. Why not legislate in Parliament instead of administrative supervision? Is it because the Government wants to make it easier to amend the rules, whenever necessary, without having to come to Parliament to publicly justify any amendment in the future?

PM Lee said that in order to be an outstanding cosmopolitan city, we need to have the X-factor. Now that we have decided to open the casino, maybe allowing casinos is the X-factor we need to make ourselves a cosmopolitan city. Now I understand that gambling for everyone is the X-factor.

Over the past one year, our people have been very active and vocal in giving their views on the opening of the casino in a so called consultative exercise initiated by the government. Now a full-stop has been inserted to end all the discussions. We should pause to reflect on this consultative exercise. Under the current situation, where a party is dominant and the civil society is very weak, the people cannot sway the Government's decision on such a matter that concerns the fate of the people. If the Government's judgment is wrong, it would lead the nation and our people on to the "river of no return", where the cost would be very real and very heavy.

 

议长先生,一个月前,贸工部长在煮的这锅“粥”终于熟了,端上了台面来了。政府说这“粥”加了某种特效药,能更好的填饱我们的肚皮。尽管这种特效药也会令我们其中的一些人大泻肚子,甚至脱水而死,但李总理说为了整体的利益,即使你有意见,也只能灌下,而他自会做足善后工作。过去一些日子,对此持反对意见的国人,包括工人党都已表明了我们的顾虑,该说的已经说尽了,如今在征求民意但未顺从民意,也不给机会表达民意的情况下,政府单方面做出了决策,这最终会否是国家人民的福祉,唯有交由现实来判定。

我要指出的是政府在宣布作出决定时尝试包装问题,并提出了以下的似是而非的辩证:

第一,政府说赌场只是占综合度假村的一小部分,我们不能因为有赌场的部分而不要综合度假村。而综合度假村是发展旅游业的王牌。这是企图转移视线。如果综合度假村才是最重要的,那就单单建综合度假村吧!如果只建综合度假村而不建赌场行不通的话,那赌场才是真正的关键问题。摊开来说,投资者真正兴趣的是能带来丰厚利润的赌场,而政府只要允许投资者建赌场,就可以不必支付分文而有综合度假村来促进旅游业的发展。不过,从来不会让人民白吃午餐的行动党政府也清楚知道天底下不会有这么便宜的事,让投资家建赌场必须付出社会代价。政府愿意让人民受赌场的祸害,付出代价,以便政府坐享其成,达到不必支付半分钱就有综合度假村来促进旅游业的发展的目的。

第二, 政府认为赌场所带来的问题呢? 问题不大。我想,我们目前还没看到问题,但政府已经推断问题不大。政府所持得理由是政府对本地赌徒的调查结果显示病态赌徒的百分比大约是2.1 和反正新加坡人也已经在睹了,只欠本土没建赌场而已。政府的逻辑是反正都是睹,到赌场睹和到赛马工会的投注站去睹没什么两样。用同样的逻辑,那人民吸烟成性,我们是否也该允许吸毒在新加坡合法化、公开化呢?毕竟买买马票比起赌场的赌局,其诱惑性,刺激性,心理上的冲击性,和上瘾的程度,就如吸烟和吸毒,是两码子事。

此外,美国政府委任的国家博弈影响调查委员会1999年发布的报告指出在赌场的50英里内,病态赌徒有增加约一倍的现象。(Charter 4, Pg4, Para 2) 澳洲生产力委员会1999年所提出的报告也确定赌场和住宅区的距离和赌博有关的社会问题的增加有直接的关系。(Charter 8 Pg 31)
第三,政府说她保证还是有足够的保护措施保障人民不会受到太大的影响。如果一向来以严肃执政,以家庭为核心的政策,以鼓吹儒家传统价值观为新加坡定位的行动党政府到今天会决定开赌场,我们还能相信行动党政府以后就不会因为时局所需,由于大气候的因素,人民趋向更成熟等堂而皇之的理由在将来面对激烈竞争时放松相关的保护措施吗?

更何况,到那个时候,人民也许已经习惯了到赌场去,因睹而出问题的人与事见多了,习以为常,也接受赌场的存在和其所带来的社会问题是必然的结果。那新加坡将踏上了另一个旅程”悲”, 是悲哀的悲。

几天前,李总理的胞妹李玮玲医生投函《海峡时报》言论版,公开批评2001年中央医院为一对尼泊尔的连体婴进行的,所谓“成功”的手术,其实是一个错误,这或许可提供我们一个有用的参照点。当年,“成功”分离的两姐妹,如今五岁了,一个成了植物人,另一个还不能行走。两姐妹的爷爷叹说他们的前景是一片黑暗。

李医生认为,当初就应让这对姐妹自然地离开这个世界,这样他们的家人或许能再生养更多健康的儿女,继续他们的生活,而不至于陷入今天的困境。尽管分体手术可能让新加坡取得医学上的突破,让新加坡医学界扬名世界,但医生的责任,毕竟在于维护病人的最终福利,现在病人和其家属将长期受苦,就此而言,这场手术自始就是一个错误。而开设赌场与否,政府对人民应有维护社会风纪的道义责任,人民的福祉应该是决策的最大考量。
当年的中央医院院长维文医生,如今身在内阁,参与作出了开设赌场的决策。开设赌场的决定就有如当初分体手术的决定,不同的是,如果不进行手术,那姐妹俩可能很快的就离开了这个世界,但不开设赌场,难道我们的经济就会迅速地垮下来吗?

犹如当初中央医院的考量,风险最终由病人承受,开设赌场所带来的经济利益,长远来说,最终会否盖过它的社会成本,谁也说不准,政府是否掌控得了呢?非到生死攸关,政府是否应该为了经济的增长,为了吸引更多的旅客,为了有更多的财政盈余而带领人民走这步险棋呢?难道我们真的濒临不开赌场,就别无他法,坐着等死的境地了吗?

政府一向来强调家庭作为我们社会基石的重要性,严格执行例如单亲妈妈不得申请政府组屋、同性恋行为受到否定等亲家庭的政策,那政府又为什么要冒着摧毁国人家庭的风险,开起赌场来了呢?

不久前,我建议政府认真检讨我们的社会安全网,加强人民的福利,政府以这会腐蚀国人的工作意愿而一口拒绝了,但开设赌场难道就不会弱化国人的勤奋工作的观念吗?

政府辩称开设赌场的决定,有助于鼓励国人对自身负责,加强社会的成熟度,事实上,政府是放弃了维护社会风纪的道义责任。

以上种种前后不一致的逻辑,可供大家认清行动党政府唯利是图的本质。

议长先生,今天,我们的社会在没有生命危险,没有表决权的情况下被仓促地推上了手术台,进行一宗利益不甚明显,又充满风险的手术,我们尽力挣扎,依旧无法摆脱,如今生米已煮成“粥”, 唯一的途径是尽量的做好善后工作,以将即将面临的负面后果减至最低。

我们或许可参考他国的做法。根据美国伊利诺斯州博弈局的主管Michael Belletire在1997年提出的报告,认为政府应该立法管制赌博业者,赌场的法案应该包括以下的内容:

1. 设立一个独立的机构来全面监督赌博行业,对诸如发出执照、管制条件等进行妥善的管理。
2. 控制赌博行业的扩散,严格管制执照的数目,开设赌场的地点等。
3. 调查赌场执照申请者的政经背景,确保他们是恰当的经营者。
4. 批准赌场管理层的名单,并允许执法者调查他们的出身和背景。
5. 发出赌场员工的准证。
6. 严格确保业者遵循博弈局规定的经营准则。
7. 对业者突击检查的权力和准则
8. 惩戒和起诉违规业者的权力
9. 监控赌博过程的公正性,保护光顾赌场者的利益。
10. 要求赌场业者透露,并批准他们的资金来源
11. 进行公共教育,以避免光顾赌场者一睹成瘾。辅导和协助上瘾者。这可包括强制性的公共教育活动,对赌场员工的辅导等。

因为烂赌而自毁前程的前亚太酿酒厂财务经理谢德龙先生的自白以及他基于自身的惨痛经验而对管制赌场所做出的建议,政府应该认真地对待并采纳。

民间的力量既然无法阻止政府开设赌场,我们现在能做的是尽力督促政府进行和完成管制赌场的立法。昨天内政部长说政府会成立一个监管机构来监督赌场的经营。为什么不通过国会立法而是以政府行政的监管方式来管制赌场? 政府这样做的动机是否如果需要修改条例时可以随意,不必通过国会,比较方便,也不需公开解说辩证修改的理由?

议长先生,李总理曾说过,新加坡要成为一个卓越的国际都会,必须拥有 X因素,决定开赌场大概是为了使新加坡拥有成为一个卓越国际大都会的 X 因素吧!我现在才明白,原来全民开赌就是 X 因素。

这一年来政府就开设赌场的所谓咨询民意的活动,已经划上了句号。咨询的葫芦装的是什么药,大家也都心里有数。有了这次的经验,我想国人应该好好地省思一下,在一个一党独大,民间力量薄弱的政治环境里,国人无法就改变影响自身命运的公共事务发挥有效的作用,如果政府的判断错误,带领国家人民走向一条不归路的话,其代价将会是何等的真实,何等的深重。

 

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