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Ministry probes free bus rides to RWS and MBS casinos September 9, 2010

Posted by hafizbam in Miscellaneous, Private operators.
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MPs raise concerns about Sentosa IR’s heartland shuttle

By Elgin Toh, Andrea Ong & Chong Zi Liang

The Government is investigating the free bus rides offered by the two integrated resorts (IRs) here.

The probe could have an impact especially on Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), which introduced free shuttle services between the resort and 12 HDB town centres a few months ago.

The investigation, announced yesterday by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), is to establish that Singaporeans are not being encouraged to go to the IRs’ casinos.

It comes amid protests from MPs like Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who told The Straits Times earlier that the free rides encourage Singaporeans in the heartlands to gamble at the casinos. He will raise the issue in Parliament.

When contacted about Mr Liang’s concerns, the ministry said in an e-mail reply: “We are investigating the provision of free transport by the IR operators.

“The IR operators will not be allowed to target the local market or provide incentives in any form for Singaporeans to patronise the casinos.”

Its move is in line with legislation introduced in 2006 to regulate casinos. The law, among other things, forbids casino advertisements in the mass media.

The National Council on Problem Gambling also views the free shuttle services with “great concern”. Its statement said it “disapproves of any marketing and promotion effort targeting Singaporeans and permanent residents to visit the casinos.

“We will work slosely with MCYS to address any possible social impact arising from casino gambling.”

Both IRs offer free shuttle services. The Marina Bay Sands goes between the resort and Changi Airport, as well as hotels in the Marina Bay area. The RWS buses are available at two spots in the Central Business District – International Plaza and Lau Pa Sat – as well as 12 HDB town centres, including Ang Mo Kio, Jurong East, Tampines and Bedok.

Most of its bus services run from 10am to 10pm on weekdays. On weekends, the last bus leaves for RWS at 2.20am.

Yesterday, The Straits Times went on 17 trips between 10am and 9pm, taking buses between RWS and HDB town centres in Choa Chu Kang, Tiong Bahru, Bedok and Bukit Merah. Most buses were 50-seaters.

On the day trips, one in seven commuters walked straight into the casino upon getting off the bus. At night, after the Universal Studios theme park closed at 7pm, two out of five headed for the casino, which Singaporeans have to pay $100 to enter.

Most of the 30 commuters interviewed said they came to know of the free shuttle after receiving RWS mailers in their letter boxes.

Among them was a 60-year-old retiree who took the 10am bus from Choa Chu Kang. He was bringing his family of six, including two grandchildren, to the Universal Studios theme park.

“We’re going because it’s my grandson’s birthday. I’ve never been inside the casino. The $100 fee is too expensive,” he said.

Teenagers and families with children formed the majority on the buses during the day, and were usually headed for Universal Studios or the food outlets. On the night services, the buses were half-full, mainly with workers.

Clerk Jeanette Chan, 45, who visits the RWS casino six times a month, said: “The buses make it really convenient as it stops at the indoor bus bay not far from the casino.”

Previously, she had to cross a road to get public transport home. “And when it rained, I got wet,” she added.

RWS, however, said a survey it did of 2,500 users of its free shuttle shows more than 60 per cent did not go to the casino. It also said that “we do not provide special casino incentives to Singaporeans.”

Six MPs interviewed whose wards are served by the free shuttle say the concerns over gambling ae valid. However, they feel people should keep an open mind as the free bus services benefit those who want to visit the other attractions on Sentosa.

Said Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tanjong Pagar GRC): “I don’t think it’s a big deal… if people want to go, they can easily make their way to the casinos.”

Like some of the other MPs interviewed, Mr Baey said none of his constituents had approached him about problem gamblers in their families.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said the shuttle to Sentosa should stop at 7pm when Universal Studios closes.

He added: “If the aim of RWS is to draw more to patronise the casino, then that is wrong.”

Quotes

No Casino Incentives
“We started our free bus shuttle service following feedback and the age-old perception that Sentosa was too far and inaccessible… As a Singapore-listed company here for the long term, Resorts World does not, and will not, promote irresponsible gambling among Singaporeans. We do not provide special casino incentives for Singaporeans.”
– A Resorts World Sentosa spokesman

Keep Out Of Heartland
“I was very disturbed when I heard about the RWS free shuttles running from HDB town centres. With such convenience, more people in the heartland will be encouraged to gamble at the casino. I hope RWS does the right thing socially – they should voluntarily stop these services. They can run them from hotels or from Orchard Road. But I don’t think they should run it into an HDB town.”
– Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa

Gamblers Will Find A Way
“If buses run through the heartland, people who are weak in their determination might be tempted to take the free bus to the casino. But we have to look at the issue from both sides. Those who really want to go to gamble will make their way there regardless of whether theres is a free bus service.”
– Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Sam Tan

What Casino? It’s A Free Ride
“I’m not going to the casino. Actually, I’m not even going to Sentosa. I’m planning to spend the say in Tampines Mall. So I’m taking the free bus from home in Choa Chu Kang to Sentosa. I’ll then hop on to the next bus from Sentosa to Tampines. It’s my way of beating the rising bus fares.”
– A 48-year-old unemployed Choa Chu Kang resident who declined to be named

Have Free Bus, Will Visit
“I might come more frequently now because of the free bus service. I’ve been to the casino at Marina Bay Sands too, but I prefer RWS… For MBS, I still have to change trains and walk a long distance from City Hall MRT. It takes a long time and it’s inconvenient for me to go home. This bus takes me very near my house.”
– Factory worker Tan Chin Hock, 68, who took the bus from Choa Chu Kang at 1pm. He left at 9pm and said he won $2,000.

The above article was published in The Straits Times on Thursday 9 September 2010 pages A1 & A6.

Personally, I feel that these concerns over the free buses leading to a rise in problem gamblers are totally invalid. As MP Baey rightly pointed out, determined gamblers can easily make their way to the casino. The buses would just be facilitating his travel. The ST survey as well as RWS’ own survey shows that the majority of the bus commuters are not utilising the shuttle to get to the casino. Do we then penalise the majority?

What irked me most though is the short-sightedness displayed by the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports Mr Seah Kian Peng in suggesting the shuttle stops operating at 7pm once the theme park closes for the day. Perhaps he should do a little more research and learn that the theme park technically remains open till late to allow those who want to dine at its restaurants to do so –  minus the heat of the day.

The government cannot expect to have the best of both worlds. They chose to site a casino on the same premises as the theme park, each with their own totally different target groups of visitors. Isn’t that in itself a subtle way of enticing the unintended groups to gamble their lives away? For the benefit of everyone, keep the free shuttle bsues.

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Comments»

1. Resorts World Sentosa cancels free shuttles « Jom Naik Bas! - September 10, 2010

[…] This cessation comes as a surprise after a report on Straits Times’s Thursday edition that the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) has launched a probe into the free shuttle services provided by RWS and Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Integrated Resorts. The probe is to determine if the free shuttles are encouraging locals to go to the casinos. (Read the report on Singapore Bus Page) […]

2. Ng Lip Chuan - September 12, 2010

I think the recent “knee-jerk” action in stopping the free shuttle service to the IR by the government smacks of arrogance by some politician or gov’t bureaucrat trying to score points due to the coming general elections.

Such drastic action may backfire as it affected thousands of Singaporeans who only wanted to visit the IRs to spend quality time with their friends and families but were instead deemed to be gamblers going to the casinos.

Whatever happened to the “consultative” type of government that some politicians professed some time ago? Instead of discussing this issue with the public, the government showed its iron fist and arrogance by IMMEDIATELY stopping the free shuttle service affecting thousands of Singaporeans who had good and honourable intentions.
I rest my case!

3. Jaffar - September 25, 2010

It is utter foolishness to stop the free bus rides, even the private sector allows free bees, but the Regulator Authority does not promote and expect the general public to pay for the ride.

If Local Gamblers could afford $100 entrace fee, it will not deter them to reach there by any means. However, general public going there for sky park and other non-gambling attractions are impacted at large.


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