A performer holds over-sized deck cards in front of the Resorts World Sentosa casino Feb. 14 (REUTERS/Pablo Sanchez)
At least 264 people in Singapore have asked to be put on a list that would prevent them from entering the city state's newly opened casino. Except for nine housewives and 19 unemployed people, the rest had jobs and probably families that they did not want to hurt with a gambling problem. Family members who think a relative might have a gambling problem can also apply to have them banned.
The $4.7 billion Resorts World Sentosa opened on Feb. 14, Valentines Day and the first day of the Chinese New Year, which was considered auspicious. It is the first of two casinos resorts (and a Universal Studios theme park) that is meant to help transform Singapore from a manufacturing and shipping center to a global hub city built on financial services and a playground for wealthy visitors. This is quite a change for a country often called the "nanny state" because of its many prescriptions and prohibitions, famously for instance, banning chewing gum for its irksome tendency to land up on sidewalks and onto people's shoes.
For decades Singapore had banned gambling as well, noting a Chinese proclivity towards gambling and its often attendant ruinations on families. But the ban didn't stop folks from taking a bus across the Singapore Strait to neighbouring Malaysia, which sports a hilltop casino in the Genting Highlands.
The government has taken a number of precautions, besides the voluntary exclusion list, to help people hedge their gambling habits. An on-site counselling service is available for problem gamblers, who can also set gaming limits for themselves with the house. You won't find ATM machines in the casinos. But the biggest discoruagement is the US$70 entry fee for Singaporeans and permanent residents. The high rollers won't be bothered, but it will be a strong deterrent to the chap who wanders in with just a a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket.