GAMBLING, I can now report, is as addicting as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and other vices. It is a bathetic conclusion to reach after being horrified by what happened at Resorts World Manila on June 2, and after slogging on from start to finish to watch the House of Representatives conduct its inquiry into the deadly incident at the casino complex.
Gambling is an addiction that is pernicious in the extreme, destroys families and marriages, and makes no distinction between the sexes or in between—all are vulnerable to its seductions and traps.
This is an addiction, however, that should not impel a policymaker or national leader to issue a declaration of war. This is one social problem and psychological malady that can be solved by less lethal means.
House alert and in charge
It was a pleasant surprise to see for a change the House and its members look more incisive and capable than the Senate in probing an issue and event of great public interest.
House legislators were probably more alert and perspicacious than usual because the wife of one House member perished in the tragedy (“there but for the grace of God could have gone their own spouses”).
I endured the hearing from morning to afternoon in the hope that I would gain some insight and solid information on what happened at the casino on June2, why 38 people died of suffocation and burns during the incident, why the lone gunman was able to move freely in the casino premises and commit his crime without being stopped by hotel security, and why RW security and safety measures proved totally inadequate to stop the crime and save casino players.
Lastly, I wanted to see whether the national policy on casino gambling and encouraging investments in casino operations may have contributed to the poor security and exposure of our citizens and guests to danger at Resorts World Manila.
We can quickly summarize some of the more disturbing disclosures and findings at the inquiry:
1. Resorts World management admitted to lapses in security within the casino, which means there was inadequacy in its protocols, system and response to an emergency incident.
2. The gunman, Jessie Carlos, was a regular player at the casino. This helps explain why he was able to enter the casino without strict inspection of his bags, and without being frisked for weapons. We can presume that Carlos had lost huge sums to the casino, and that he bore considerable antipathy towards Resort World, which could then have led him to his crime.
3. RW security is headed by an individual who is not fully qualified for such an important and sensitive job. He did not finish his studies at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA); he is not a college graduate.
4. The lockdown of RW Manila during the incident made the rescue of the hotel guests and neutralization of the gunman by police authorities difficult.
5 Resorts World videotaped the entire tragedy. But the agony of those who were asphyxiated can’t be seen because of all the smoke.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas practically took the lead of the inquiry from the usual committee chairmen by asking pointed questions of the casino management, government regulators, and PNP law enforcers.
Alvarez tried to sell his initial line that the RW attack was the work of terrorists, but he swerved, knowing there would be no buyers of this line of inquiry.
Fariñas was unsparing and almost nasty in questioning the laxity of RW security. He challenged the credentials of the RW security chief. He asked why RW security did not engage the gunman practically throughout the incident.
He also questioned the blank check that has been given to Pagcor for the licensing and regulation of casinos. He indicated that the House leadership will look into the possible amendment of the existing law. Also exposed was the role of the Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA) in issuing permits to casinos.
Asia oriented to favor gambling
Alarmingly, in spite of firearms in his person, Jessie Carlos would not have been refused entry by security at Resorts World Manila because Filipino casinos, like their Asian counterparts, are oriented toward encouraging their clients and guests to gamble. Their mindset is to encourage, not forbid. They are not puritanical, but permissive.
A reader has sent me information that may help us to understand the problem that we face in casino gambling.
He emailed me a very interesting graph (see illustration) that shows how Asian casinos exact more revenues per head from their clients, as compared to the casinos in America.
The gambling capitals of Las Vegas and Atlantic City have high volumes of people, but they gamble a lot less per head. The majority go to the casinos for the whole experience/fun, and not just to gamble.
In contrast, the Asian casinos are primarily designed to attract gamblers and maximize gambling revenue per head.
Note the revenue per head in Macau, Singapore and the Philippines.
This, says my reader, is why the safest bet is to bet on casinos in Asia. This is why even Japan has decided to open its market to gambling.
Gambling, he projects, will become much bigger as income levels in Asia rise, but competition will also become stronger, and societal issues could also become more prevalent.
So, we face the prospect that the evolution of cultures and economies in Asia is going to be heavily driven by gambling!
Why Asians are more prone to gamble
This led us into a discussion of why Asians, especially the Chinese, appear more prone to gamble. I was channeled to some very interesting material. There is even a research study in one California university on the phenomenon of Asian gambling.
This could be a cultural heritage thing with Asians. Some researchers believe that the gambling habit is connected to the Asian belief in fate and chance. We want to know what awaits us tomorrow. Rolling the dice and betting is easy.
Space considerations prevent me from delving into the issue now, and write in depth on the challenge of gambling addiction.
I shall discuss the research paper and this topic in my next column.