Friday, June 27, 2014
On Gambling and Gays
I attended a talk yesterday on “Gambling Addiction” organised by the NUS Alumni. The speaker, Mr Liew Heng San, has impressive credentials. He was in CPF and some other government portfolio but it was his religious affiliations that brought in the crowd. I saw countless people from my church and other churches. I met a friend of mine who is a clergyman and although he’s not an NUS alumnus, he received an email through the church network. Another church friend I met at the talk told me that the speaker spoke at a recent church camp and he was a dynamic speaker.
The speaker was very engaging and his audience which filled the hall in the Alumni building all listened attentively. He covered the destructiveness of gambling addiction and he talked about the social costs and what he considered the insufficient safeguards for citizens. Then came the punchline which was what I always look out for in a talk.
The speaker is of the view that the Singapore government is not doing enough to stop the citizens from going to the casino. The speaker has the most negative view of the casino. He says the casino is essentially a “temple” where time ceases to exist. That’s why there are no windows in a casino so you can’t tell day from night and time stands still and you gamble without ceasing. He also says the slot machines in a casino have subtle messages such as “May my luck be upon you”. He claims that they are using liturgy to indoctrinate the gambler. Although he is addressing the NUS Alumni which is not a religious group, it is not difficult to see that the talk was very much infused with the speaker's religious values and standard.
The speaker claims that the authorities are, in their protection of citizens from the evils of the casino,:
1. Incompetent. Singapore adopts an opt-out system for those who want to be excluded from the casino. He is of the view that what the government should have done was to have an opt-in system, i.e. everyone is excluded from the casino unless he opts himself in. He shows statistics why an opt out system is not effective.
2. Lacking in integrity.
3. Lacking in benevolence.
For both the last two points, the speaker says that the government has a special form that allows foreigners to have themselves excluded from the casino. Singaporeans and permanent residents, he says, are not given the opportunity of excluding themselves from the casino unless they do so online through their SingPass and children and many old people do not have a Singpass account.
The speaker distributed this form to everyone in his audience.
It’s the National Council on Problem Gambling’s form for the Application for Self-Exclusion for Foreigners. He suggests that we should all fill in the form and take it to our MPs to insist that we register ourselves to be excluded from the casino. This will signal to the authorities that they should have a similar form for citizens and permanent residents.
I found the whole talk unnecessary and even laughable. Before I continue, I should make it clear that I’m not on the side of casinos or gambling. I have no vested interest in the casino. I have never gambled in my entire life. I have not even laid a bet for 5 cents in my whole life. I have been to Las Vegas but only to go on rides and watch the many exciting shows there. I was "beheaded" in a magic show in MGM Grand and it was fun and the show was free! I have never placed a single coin in any of the slot machines or laid a bet in any of the poker games or card games or roulette nor do I know how to play these games. When I watch a movie and there is s a card game and the cards are slowly revealed to the viewers, I can’t tell if it’s a winning hand because I really don’t know what hand wins in a card game. I have never laid a single bet in 4D or Toto or a football pool or anything that can however remotely be considered gambling. I’m really an absolute non-gambler and nobody can claim to be less a gambler than I.
But I don’t see the casino as evil and I don’t think the authorities have been slipshod in protecting the citizens from problem gambling. I believe it’s for the individual to decide whether he should or should not go to a casino. Casinos do not force you to go to them. I’ve not been to one and I have not received any death threat for not having patronised the casino. And not everyone who goes to the casino ruins himself. I’m sure the majority of gamblers only gamble a few dollars away each time. That’s no different from going shopping. Those who kill themselves and the speaker gave a few examples of people who commit suicide because of gambling debts are very few statistically. These people probably would have incurred other debts even if they had not gone to the casino. I really don’t see the casino as such a strong force for evil. And I really don't see why the government should exclude everyone from the casino. Isn't the government always criticised for being too interfering and don't Singapore's detractors label Singapore a nanny State? The government might as well legislate to make it an offence for citizens to eat too much fatty food. What's so inherently bad about the casino anyway? Why then was the speaker so dead opposed to the casino?
One common thread that runs through all the fierce opposition against anything, be it gambling, abortion or homosexuality, is religion. Many of us are blind to the fact that deep down, we religious people want very badly for the whole world to conform to our religious values. Even if we are not blind to this fact, we are usually not willing to admit it openly.
But Singapore is a secular state and it’s very wrong of us to try to make it comply with our religious requirements. I read in the newspaper how a religious leader in a church has decided to join forces with a Muslim group in opposing the Pink Dot celebration tomorrow. He claims that he wants to affirm the importance of the family with the Muslim group. But that is of course nonsense. The Christian idea of a marriage is very different from the Muslim model. In Christianity, a marriage must be monogamous and there is no compromise here. Islamic tradition allows for polygamy.
That is one good reason why Singapore adopts secularism at the national level. Religions are all cultural and our cultures differ wildly and that’s not surprising since each culture is very much dependent on its past and the environment which shaped it in the first place. No group should force its own values down the throats of other people. What a government minister said recently is absolutely correct. When it comes to religion and personal preferences, you really should keep it to yourself and be sensitive and accept that others have the right to differ.
I was brought up in a no-gambling culture and to this day I have never gambled and don’t know how to and I probably won’t ever gamble for as long as I live. But my wife grew up in a different culture and my mother-in-law does gamble. Although my wife converted to my religion when she was still in school and she does not gamble, she has a much more tolerant view of gambling than I used to have when I was younger and more headstrong.
I hope the gay and lesbian community will have a lovely day tomorrow as they celebrate the Pink Dot day. It would be churlish if we who are heterosexual begrudge our gay friends the right to love and express their love openly. It’s my prayer that the love that dared not speak its name in the 19th century will shout it out from the mountaintops tomorrow at the Pink Dot celebration.