The Next Frontier: Responsible Gaming in Asia
Last month, analysts from Merrill Lynch announced they anticipate there will be 50 new casinos in Asia by 2012. This incredible growth, evidenced by the flourishing market in Macau, SingaporeÕs decision this spring to legalize and create two integrated casino resorts by 2009, and the consideration of new and expanded gaming operations in a host of other Asian countries, demonstrates the increasingly global nature of the gaming entertainment industry. At the same time, Asian countries and U.S. companies seeking a place
in the Asian market are already taking actions and making plans to promote responsible gaming and address
disordered gambling in these new jurisdictions.
In conjunction with its historic move to legalize casinos earlier this year, Singapore unveiled a national framework to address problem gambling Ñ four years before the expected completion of the first integrated casino resort in the country. Announced in April, the comprehensive framework includes the creation of a National Council on Problem Gambling, public education efforts, community-level counseling and support services, medical treatment for compulsive gamblers, gambling-related research, and industry
regulation and enforcement measures. The announcement of the national framework followed the release of survey results on Singapore residents gambling participation. Conducted from December 2004 through February 2005 by Singapore's Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), the survey determined that more than half (58 percent) of Singaporeans over the age of 18 engage in some kind of gambling activity, but that only a small percentage (2.1 percent) showed symptoms of probable pathological gambling. According to MCYS, this prevalence rate is comparable to those reported in surveys conducted in other Chinese-majority locales such as Macau (1.8 percent) and Hong Kong (1.9 percent).
One core aspect of Singapore's efforts is the creation of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), a board of individuals with diverse areas of expertise charged with advising the MCYS on public education and awareness programs focused on problem gambling. Chaired by Lim Hock San, president and CEO of United Industrial Corporation Ltd., the NCPG also will determine funding applications and assess and advise the government regarding preventive and rehabilitative programs.
The NCPG kicked off its public education program in October with the launch of its Web site, which features information on problem and pathological gambling, helpful links to research and information
on how problem gamblers can get help. Among these resources is the Institute of Mental Health's Community Addictions Management Programme (CAMP), which was established in 2001. CAMP employs a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, psychologists and counselors to provide treatment for individuals with various addictions. The public education program also will be prominently featured in newspapers and magazines, as well as radio talk shows and television documentaries.
In addition to these public outreach and treatment programs, Singapore is imposing what it terms "social safeguards" for casinos, ranging from entry levies of SGD $100 (USD $60) per day to advertising restrictions and a variety of exclusion programs. One proposed exclusion program, which would give family members the power to have their loved ones banned from visiting the casinos, already has proven controversial among sociologists and others. The safeguards are laid out in the Casino Control Bill released for public discussion last month and now under consideration in Parliament.
In an April 14, 2005 speech to Parliament, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for MCYS, explained that the safeguards were developed after a project team visited several major jurisdictions with casinos including Nevada, the Bahamas, Macau, Australia and London, holding discussions with key gaming stakeholders and examining the social safeguards, legislation and regulations in these other jurisdictions.
According to Lim Hok San, the NCPG plans to track public awareness of its outreach efforts and messaging as the program continues, and will further refine its programs to improve their effectiveness.
The casino-free territory of Hong Kong, where popular forms of gambling include lotteries, horse racing and betting on soccer matches, among others, has developed an extensive system of resources to address problem gambling. Established in 2003, the Ping Wo Fund is a charitable trust fund overseen by the Secretary of Home Affairs. Created through a five-year contribution of more than HKD $70 million (USD $9 million) from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the Fund finances problem gambling research, public education and prevention efforts, and counseling and treatment services for problem gamblers.
Hong Kong's government has initiated many educational and outreach efforts, including the commissioning in 2003 of Hong Kong Education City, an educational institution wholly owned by the Education and Manpower Bureau, to launch a two-year campaign on gambling-related issues targeting school-aged youth, parents and teachers. The campaign included the launch of the "Say No to Gambling Action" Web site, which offers online activities and resource information for youth on problem and pathological gambling. Additionally, the Ping Wo Fund finances two dedicated counseling and treatment centers for problem and pathological gamblers, the Caritas AG Counselling Centre and the Even Centre at the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. These centers provide specialized counseling for individuals with gambling problems and their families on-site, as well as via e-mail and problem gambling hotlines.
Perhaps the most significant indicator of Asia's increased focus on problem gambling issues was the inaugural Asian Pacific Problem Gambling Conference (APPGC), held Nov. 23-24, 2005 in Hong Kong. Sponsored by the Ping Wo Fund and organized by the Even Centre, the annual conference aims to foster communication of best practices in gambling prevention, intervention and research; raise awareness of cultural issues in problem gambling, particularly within Chinese and Asian communities; advance theory and model development in prevention, practice and research in problem gambling; and promote responsible public and social policy addressing the prevention and treatment of gambling disorders. Targeted to a broad range of international gaming stakeholders, from treatment professionals and researchers to educators and policymakers, APPGC featured simultaneous interpretation in Putonghua, Cantonese and English for the keynote sessions.
Among the leading problem gambling experts delivering keynotes were Robert Ladouceur, Ph.D.,
of the UniversitŽ Laval in Quebec; and Jeffery L. Derevensky, Ph.D., of McGill University
U.S. Companies in Asian Markets
U.S. casino companies also are busy adapting their established responsible gaming education and outreach programs to the needs of the Asian communities in which they are opening and operating properties.
"We've worked very hard in the U.S. to make sure that our responsible gaming training speaks the
language of our employees," said Dean Hestermann, corporate director of public affairs for Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., which is bidding for one of the two casino licenses in Singapore and is looking to expand into other Asian markets. "As we move forward in Singapore and other non-U.S. jurisdictions, we're committed to making sure that our responsible gaming programs fit the cultures not only of our local employees, but also the cultures of the population centers from which we might attract customers."
In September, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, parent company of the Venetian and the Sands Macao, announced its cooperation with the Division on Addictions by piloting the EMERGE (Executive, Management and Employees Responsible Gaming Education) program, which trains all employees to recognize customers and co-workers displaying signs of problem gambling. Reports say that employees at the Sands Macao are to receive a version of the training program tailored to reflect Asian culture.
Hestermann also pointed out Harrah's practice of developing Responsible Gaming Ambassadors, employees who are specially trained to discuss the companyÕs responsible gaming concerns with certain customers, and how the company will continue this program as it expands into Asia. "We want these interactions to, first, "Do no harm." And second, we want them to lead to positive changes for customers who desire change," he said. "Translating these programs to other cultures might require extra training in how to avoid being confrontational or accusatory during these conversations, and might place additional emphasis on confidentiality when self-exclusion or self-restriction options are discussed."
The responsible gaming programs currently underway in Asian gaming markets already are making an impact, but as those markets expand in the coming years, the challenge of creating effective and culturally appropriate programs to address disordered gambling will continue. Building on the solid foundation already in place, an increase in the number and variety of programs addressing problem gambling will facilitate more in-depth research and better data and will help increase awareness of the importance of responsible gaming in these new jurisdictions.