Cards. Dice. Tokens. What comes to mind? A
wonderful evening of wholesome board games with the family? Nah. You’re thinking of cash–piles
of it, and how those components can make you some, aren’t you?
Humans have been gambling since we realised we could own things, so is it any wonder that
it remains prevalent in many cultures today? The Chinese first invented playing cards in
the 9th century, and soon after, created gambling rules using said cards because of course they
did. In 2016, Las Vegas’s gross gaming revenue
of $11.1 billion was eclipsed by Macau’s $28 billion. For the many Chinese who believe
in the power of fate and fortune, gambling runs in their blood, although sometimes they
prefer to call it socialising. That’s why no one ever gets upset when playing these
“social” games. “To abstain from betting is to lay the foundations
of success,” said no Chinese person ever. In Chinese-majority Singapore, the desire
for fast riches is easily observable in lottery betting queues. In fact, other ethnicities
are so rarely found in these long, snaking queues that if they are spotted, they are
expected to give up their birth dates and IC numbers to be used as bets.
Aside from government-regulated lottery and sports betting outlets, of which there are
many, scattered all over the island, Singapore also has two big and fancy casinos.
So, what’s the problem? This. This is the problem. And this. And all
these other ads telling me that gambling is bad.
Who would’ve thought that the more legal gambling avenues available, the more instances of people
falling into debt? Well, at least our local media is consistent
with its messaging. Why do I feel like I can clean house at Marina
Bay Sands? It’s not just local media that can’t decide
how to portray gambling. Betting laws are not clear cut too. Look at this scene. Four
ladies playing a game of mahjong. Couldn’t be more harmless and legal, right? As long
as they’re playing in one of their homes, yes. Sounds simple enough. But what if they
get another table going? That’s fine too. Unless that other table is filled with people
they randomly invited from the streets. Then Mrs Chan’s home is now a gambling den. Call
the SWAT team! But, wait. If the people at the second table get acquainted with each
other and our original ladies, then they’re all friends and it’s legal again. But if Mrs
Chan decides to permanently convert her dining room into a room just for money-fuelled mahjong
sessions, then lock her up, she’s a menace to society!
This duplicity has got to go. It makes Singapore look like that bride who’s yelling at everyone
to make sure her wedding day goes perfectly when the rest of her life is in shambles.
Sometimes it’s better to embrace your flaws, especially when they are obvious to everyone.
Singapore doesn’t have the same breadth of unwinding experiences as other liberal democracies.
So when Singaporeans do partake in something that eases their mundane existence, like drinking
and gambling, they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty.
Gambling should be treated the same way we treat alcohol. We have ad campaigns discouraging
drink driving and regulations to prevent underage drinking, but what we don’t do, is tell people
to stay away from drinking. Alcohol consumption is arguably a worse vice than gambling, but
there’s a universally tacit acceptance that many people need recreational access to alcohol
to get by. As long as the vast majority of people continue to drink responsibly, we say
c’est la vie! Anyone who chooses to drink and be a nuisance has to deal with the law.
That’s it. Let gambling be an opportunity for Singapore
society to mature. Singaporeans have to deal with a government that makes its presence
felt in every aspect of their lives. But a person has to make up some of the rules that
he lives by through self-discovery, or we can forget about having more entrepreneurs,
innovators and leaders. These are independent thinkers, not people who need to defer to
the authorities whenever there’s an uncomfortable issue to grapple.
Of all the things that could lead to a society’s downfall, the odds of gambling being the one
are low. I say, let the chips fall where they may.