THE intensive review of gambling policy and casino industry regulation in the country is the most significant and welcome unintended consequence of the tragic incident at Resorts World Manila last June 2.
I take keen interest in the review because I believe it is vital that the Philippines, for the sake of national well-being and rational development, should avoid the problems and pitfalls that have befallen countries and societies that were seduced and sidetracked by the lure of easy profits and revenues from gambling and its various forms.
To the discovery that gambling is addicting, as pervasive, corrosive and possibly fatal to the addict as drug abuse and other addictions, we should add a second mordant lesson about gambling that must guide the writing of a new law to govern the gambling and casino industry in the country.
Predatory gambling industry
The lesson is this: gambling as an industry is predatory. Whether it caters to gambling by the poor or small-time bettors, or by the well-to-do and high-rollers, the gambling industry preys mercilessly on the players. It profits, vampire-like, from the misery of players. Large gambling establishments set up shop in any venue wherever they are welcome. These places rapidly become dystopian. Gamblers become desolate and dysfunctional.
The picture of a problem gambler or gambling addict should impel our government to review its gambling policies and regulations. Gambling addicts like Jessie Carlos are perpetually chasing their losses, hoping for the big win that will enable them to surmount and forget their losses. The mindlessness of it all is repellent, because of course gamblers can never win against the house.
Government and gambling
Since the RW incident happened, I have come across some intriguing information and compelling research materials that, in my view, should be considered in the review of gambling policy and the writing of a new law.
Consider first this piece of gossip that was reported by one paper: On Thursday evening, just before the attack on RW Manila, three members of the Duterte Cabinet—Secretaries Arturo Tugade of Transportation, Mark Villar of Public Works and Highways, and Benjamin Diokno of Budget and Management— had a late dinner at Passion, a Chinese restaurant adjoining the RW casino.
RWM chief operating officer Stephen Reilly joined the three officials over dinner. Also present was newly appointed Palace media assistant secretary Mocha Uson.
A few moments after they had dined, at midnight of Thursday and early Friday morning, Jessie Carlos did his thing in the casino and set one gaming floor on fire.
If anything, this piece of gossip confirms a well-known fact—that casinos cultivate and lobby for cordial relations with the ruling government, and government officials are keen to nurture friendly ties with casinos, along with amenities.
Some might wonder whether the good relationship is conducive to the writing of sensible policies on gambling and casino operations
Australia’s gambling problem
The Philippines should learn from Australia’s massive gambling problem and what it will now be doing to contain and resolve it.
On November 18, 2016, the New York Times published a report written by Lizzie O’shea entitled, “Australia has a serious gambling problem.”
The article reported that the country now tops the charts on a very serious indicator: gambling losses. Last year, Australians lost $17.5 billion, or about $949 per adult. These per capita losses are among the highest in the world.
Ms O’shea asks: “How did Australia get into this mess? It is the outcome of a symbiosis between a hugely profitable industry and pliant governments.”
The NYT article unravels the consequences of government chasing gambling tax revenues, facilitating the proliferation of gambling venues, ignoring the social costs, and the casino industry being a well-oiled/well-organized money machine adept at getting what it wants and expanding its business.
Why didn’t state governments uphold their duty to the public and properly regulate the gambling industry? Because they rake in billions of dollars a year in taxes from the industry. Last year alone, taxes on gambling brought in $3.65 billion for state governments across the country.
O’shea says the social costs of gambling are enormous: bankruptcy, homelessness, suicide, domestic violence and countless other stories, all miserable in their own way.
The gambling industry pushes the hoary line that problem gambling is about “individual responsibility” and claim people should use will power to avoid gambling to excess. But this is a con. It only distracts from what is needed to address the problem.
Why Asians are more prone to gamble
Another reading material that I found highly instructive is an article published in Palace of Chance.com. The piece is entitled, “Cultural heritage: Why are Asians more prone to gamble?” It was written by Claire Hollows, and was published on August 22, 2014.
Ms Hollows reports that gambling had become a problematic issue in California in many Asian groups like the Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean and Cambodian communities.
She related how when you visit a casino or walk through a neighborhood in these communities, you see how so many people there appeared to be avidly engaged in some form of gambling.
She then reports that constant gambling has become a problematic issue in many Asian groups—so much so that activists within these communities are looking for ways to eradicate the addictive behavior and bad practices induced by gambling.
Ms Hollows reports that a certain Timothy Fong, the co-director of the Gambling Studies Program at UCLA, believes the issue of Asian gambling addiction must be taken seriously. Fong conducted a study analyzing Asian gambling behavior which he published in 2009.
So, what makes the Chinese and other Asians so obsessive on betting and gambling? In many parts of Asia, gambling is an activity that is learned from infancy. Family gatherings usually feature gambling as the older members of the family teach the younger ones how to bet as a form of entertainment.
Fong observed that most Asian cultures strongly believe in the concepts of chance, fate, luck and numerology (they consider the number 8 extremely lucky and the number 4 as a bad omen).
According to Fong, Asian ideas of fortune and the notion that everything is predetermined is what makes gambling so alluring to Asians, who relish the opportunity to test their fate.
Casinos are not helping. Asian customers and players translate into good business for them. Therefore, most casinos are instructed to treat the Asian clients in a very special way because they are very big spenders. They lure them with personalized treatment, free drinks and cigarettes.
A question of balance
The most penetrating lesson that I learned from my research, and which I hope our Congress will put front and center in its review, is this: Like most things, gambling policy comes down to a question of balance, debate and common sense. When gambling gets out of control and runs amok, it results in bad outcomes—just like the gunman at Resorts World Casino.
The approach of Congress to a solution should be: “meaningful dialogue and study before legislation” first, instead of talking at once about immediate legislation.
A problem as pervasive and corrosive as gambling has to be thoroughly studied and analyzed before it will submit to social control.