Online betting now… what next?

The government has exempted Singapore Pools and Turf Club from the ban on online gambling. That means that whatever you can get from the Singapore Pools outlets and Turf Club, you also can get online. But under strict conditions and social safeguards such as:

  • Ensuring only those aged 21 and above can open player
  • Ensuring that punters are not gambling on credit
  • Set daily funding and gambling limits

They also have to channel their profits into social and charitable causes. As can be expected, there are many Singaporeans who are against this idea. They include Workers’ Party and the National Council of Churches. I think they are misguided.

You mean no online betting then those who would be compulsive gamblers will not gamble liao meh? Yes, online betting would only make it convenient for those people (like me) who occasionally buy 4-D, Toto, Big Sweep. But for those compulsive gamblers, with all the safeguards in place, this won’t feed their addiction! With or without online betting, they would just go and place ridiculously large bets anyway.

And if you think that more people will kena addicted to gambling just because it’s now more convenient… what makes you say that? There are FAR more people who gamble occasionally but aren’t addicted compared to compulsive gamblers. Studies show that gambling problems are not caused from gambling being easily attainable, they are caused from a person’s inability to control their gambling habits.

And the reason why people could have problems controlling their gambling habits has less to do with access and more to do with their emotions. People get addicted to gambling if they need it to alleviate stress or because they feel a certain type of euphoria when they gamble. Any increases in addiction to gambling would more likely be due to a gloomy economy and dismal labour market than online betting.

So there is some validity to what Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said – that the exemption provides “a tightly controlled outlet, space”. What baffles me is why the government would pursue this line of thinking when it comes for gambling, but not for the other vices that it’s currently clamping down on.

Drugs for example. It’s the same isn’t it? There are people who are taking it. Making all drugs completely illegal only drives it underground. Why not have a controlled outlet for those then? Wouldn’t it serve the same functions for drugs as the exemptions would for gambling? I mean… according the Minister, the exemptions provide

“(…) a controlled outlet, valve, that’s provided for by the law, I think it allows the space, where those who are in that space, instead of being on an illegal site, can perhaps be in a safer space where crime is removed from the picture. And at least, safety measures are put in place to try to manage it actively.”

Can’t we have a controlled outlet, a valve, that’s provided for by the law, that allows the space, where those are in the space, instead of going to illegal drug pushers, can perhaps be in a safer place where crime is removed from the picture? A nd at least, safety measures are put in place to try to manage it actively?

After all, for a number of drugs, the issue of addiction isn’t actually about exposure to the drugs. Like addiction to gambling, addiction to drugs is an emotional issue. It’s got to do with social isolation. There was a study done on rats. Put rats in a cages. Two bottles of water in each cage. One is normal water. The other laced with cocaine. When rats are isolated in cages, they get addicted, and all died from overdosing.

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander did something different. He put rats in a “Rat Park” – a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. And again, two bottles of water, one normal, another laced with cocaine.

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. Guess what happened?

The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them.

You think that only applies to rats?

During the Vietnam War, using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

So if the government wanted to solve the problem of drug addiction or gambling addiction or any form of addiction, there is wisdom in providing a controlled outlet. It allows the government to find out who are socially isolated and would more likely develop an addiction. That would allow the government to provide more targeted intervention and help those people back into the human equivalent of Dr Alexander’s Rat Park.

[Featured image via DollarsAndSense.sg]

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