Sunday, May 28, 2006

Of Vice and Men

The news that Las Vegas Sands has won the bid for Singapore's first integrated resort at Marina Bay was big news in yesterday’s papers.

On page 2 of Today, the article was headlined, Sands: Of Mice and Men. I actually heard this news on Radio 938 Live the day before. For a moment, I thought I heard the newscaster, Michael Martin pronounce that Sands’ proposal will significantly strengthen Singapore’s position as a VICE destination. Of course what he actually said was MICE, or Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions.

In any case, I think the Today article should more appropriately be titled; Of Vice and Men. After all, what was it that prompted our government to embark on this project in the first place. If I am not mistaken, it was because many Singaporeans are going to overseas casinos in places like Batam, Genting Highlands and Macao, as well as Cruise Ships that sailed to ‘nowhere’, to gamble away our hard-earned Singapore wealth. In line with our government’s much-touted philosophy of being pragmatic, they decided that if we cannot stop them, we may as well join them.

Let’s face it. Do you honestly believe that it is Sands’ Mice facilities that will attract the tourist dollars to Singapore? Do you honestly believe that the so-called ‘gaming component’ will only be a small part of the integrated resort? If it was, then why is our government embarking on so many preventive measures to help Singaporeans cope with the problem of gambling addiction.

Incidentally, I think that the term ‘problem gambler’ is an euphemism. The Hokkien term ‘kiao kwee’ or Cantonese term, ‘toe kwai’ (赌鬼 ) or ‘gambling devil’ is much more appropriate. From the many tragic stories that one hears of how gamblers have destroyed their own lives, as well as those of their family members, one can be excused for thinking that the compulsive gambler is indeed demon-possessed.

You know something. I just realized that our government is just as skillful as their Japanese counterpart in the word game. A casino is called an IR - integrated resort, and the letters ‘b’ and ‘l’ have been dropped from the word ‘gambling’. So now we say that we have an integrated resort with a ‘gaming component’.

In all fairness, I must also commend our government for taking a responsible approach to manage these vices. Instead of pretending these vices do not exist, why not try to ‘manage’ it. (I heard that one new MP wants to manage the negative internet – good luck to her). If horny Singapore old men are so tired after their hard day’s work that they must engage the services of skillful young masseuses in Batam, we might as well encourage them to go to Geylang instead where the ‘foreign talents’ are at least properly ‘managed’ and possibly NSRS- certified (National Skill Certification System, in case you don’t know). If Singaporeans are so fond of playing numbers games, then we might as well let them do it in our own front yard, where the ‘problematic’ ones can be monitored and counseled before they go home and throw their children down their HDB flats.

Most of all, I respect PM Lee Hsien Loong’s courage to take full responsibility for this decision and whatever consequences that come with it.

But I cannot help pondering where this slippery road will lead. How about illicit drugs? Or gay marriages? Or paedophilia? Do we want to be pragmatic about those too?

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