Counsellors working with problem gamers are all for the recently passed Remote Gambling Act in Singapore, blaming free-to-play casino-style social games for nurturing impressionable youths into gambling addicts as they grow older. The idea that online social gambling may cause actual gambling addictions should not come as a surprise, but seems to be an issue taken lightly. After all, “it’s just a game.”
However, in an article released by Today, counsellors warned that the realistic setting and the adrenaline rush provided by the games may prompt players to want to try the real thing.
The bait that lures casual gamers into real gambling is the ease of their wins in the games. To add to this, Executive Director of One Hope Center, Mr. Dick Kum said, “Many gamers turn into gamblers because winning virtual money is no longer interesting to them.”
These games are easily accessible, with not only social media giant Facebook hosting them but also casual game providers like Big Fish Games. These games are free to play and only utilizes virtual credits, exempting them from the newly passed Remote Gambling Act.
Consultant psychiatrist Thomas Lee added that the ease of which these games are found, as well as the number of people playing them (and sharing them on Facebook), causes people to think of these games as harmless time wasters. “Youths may think it’s okay because their friends are also playing,” he said. “Youths are particularly susceptible because they are tech-savvy and tend to desire instant gratification,” he added.
Mr Lum and Ms. Deborah Queck, execute director of Blessed Grace Social Services, noted an increase of younger patients who were first introduced into this dark pit of gambling addiction through “harmless” social gambling with virtual money. Dr. Lee shared that these games are nurturing users into real gamblers, instilling the idea that they will be ready for the ‘real thing’ after being familiar with the game.
Singapore’s Remote Gambling Act was introduced for First Reading in September 8, 2014 and passed following the second reading on October 7, 2014. This Act is far reaching, banning both on-site and remote gambling unless it is “specifically allowed for by way of stringently regulated exemption license”. Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, brought forward two key objectives proposed by the Act, which are “to tackle the law and order issues associated with remote gambling” and “to protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by remote gambling”.
Asia Gambling Brief shared that while there will be a licensing regime, there will only be a few actual candidates capable of owning the remote gambling license. Even when given out however, casino-type games are not permitted. It is now also against the law to operate a “Singapore-based remote gambling service” regardless of whether the intended consumers are Singaporeans or not.
The law is so far reaching to even attempt to block games of chance that play for virtual credits or virtual currencies. Yes, this may also include the much beloved mobile game, Candy Crush. However, this may not be an issue as long as the consumers are not able to earn any money from the social games. Now that you think about it, Candy Crush is basically a gambling game (of chance) that takes your money with 0% chance of winning any money in return.
Mr Lum shared that many online social games are hosted by real casinos, adding that some of the apps and games have the option of playing with real money as well. Instead of introducing the regulation, however, the counselors feel that public awareness should be the main way to handle the problem. Parents should refrain from downloading free games that imitate the feel of gambling on their smart devices.
The Act is expected to take full effect from 2015. In the meantime, the government is introducing initiatives to enhance public education. In addition, the National Council of Problem Gambling is working with voluntary welfare organizations to educated students in proper use of technology.