Saturday, June 11, 2011

Malaysia developing a gambling culture

Malaysian PostChristopher Fernandez
Towards late last month, Johor police squashed an illegal 4D syndicate that reportedly was raking in RM500,000 monthly, and also arrested 23 suspects in yet another of a growing list of raids conducted from time to time that bears testimony to the fact that a gambling culture has spawned in Malaysia.
If we have become quite used to reading about these raids, not only are illegal 4D syndicates the target of police, also ubiquitous now are Internet casinos operating under the guise of cybercafés that are beginning to attract hordes of gamers.

In quite a number of neighbourhoods, there is usually now a cybercafé operating an Internet casino. While it is anybody’s guess how much the government is losing in revenue from this illegal activity, as calls to legalise Internet gaming have been made by certain quarters, the authorities are now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Legalising Internet gaming might seem a logical way to regulate and monitor the activities of cybercafé, but Malaysia is now inundated by large-scale gaming activities that can spell a danger and add to growing social ills. From waging bets on cock fighting to playing mahjong within the secrecy of a premises, Malaysians of all walks of life are taking to gambling not in a fun but serious way.
A common saying of gamers at Internet casinos is that they want to “cari makan” (earn a living) from betting. Whether this is possible is debatable but often the “cari makan” evolves into bettors having to eventually “curi makan” (steal to earn a living) as alleged by those familiar with Internet gaming activities.
What is worse, say these people, is that since Internet gaming is illegal, these cybercafés are usually the target of robbers and in a number of robberies, murder and grievous hurt have also been committed in the process of robbing, this despite cybercafé operators having strict security measures and CCTVs to monitor their surroundings.
The scenario of gambling in Malaysia has taken a turn for the worse with bankruptcy cases owing to irresponsible and reckless betting on the rise. This is now very evident in betting on football games.
While for a season it was thought that football gaming should be legalised, the idea fell apart as the scheme offered was considered unsuitable to be implemented effectively. Instead illegal football gaming continues to thrive much to the dismay of the authorities who are aware that billions of ringgit are being invested heavily by punters in illegal football betting.
Cunning scheme
While the vice kingpins laugh all the way to the bank, the Malaysian government is saddled with the dilemma of how to govern the gaming industry as it is explicitly aware that much revenue is being lost to the mobsters and triads that oversee these business not just in Malaysia but also all across Asia.
In the case of illegal 4D gaming and football betting, these syndicates piggy-back on the infrastructure of the legitimate gaming companies to run their operations in a cunning scheme that often causes the legal operators to be up in arms over the losses they suffer as much of their revenue is siphoned off by the illegal operators.
This is particularly true in the horse racing industry where illegal bookmakers have gone online to cause much loss to be suffered by the three Malaysian turf clubs at Ipoh, Sungai Besi and Batu Gantong, Penang.
Race-goers are also to be blamed for patronising bookies at the three clubs on a day of racing instead of betting with the clubs. This has caused the quality and integrity of horse racing to drop considerably and descend in esteem as a sport of international repute unlike the horse racing industries of Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
If this is not a cause for concern, legal 4D betting seemed to have gone overboard with the introduction of special draws on a selected Tuesday every month. Complaints abound that the current three draws a week held on every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday should suffice.
But the introduction of the special draw, the revamping of the games you can bet on and the restructuring of prize money have all caused the number of bettors to swell and this can be gauged by the increase in revenue by the three 4D and digit game operators in the country including the Big Sweep lottery.
While the popularity of gambling has witnessed a marked upswing in the proliferation of gamblers now, another bastion of gambling operated by Resorts World Bhd (RWB) – the Genting Highlands casino – continues also to show steady progress.
While gaming by RWB is promoted as a fun and relaxing way to unwind and enjoy the facilities offered and the refreshingly cool mountain air up the highlands, the numbers of Genting patrons who have fallen by the wayside as a result of not having put in place an effective Responsible Gaming Policy is open to speculation.
Problem gamblers
This is where RWB should shoulder its part of the responsibility by screening the financial standing of patrons and not just creating awareness of RGP. It must see to it that RGP is effectively implemented to ensure patrons have an enjoyable time and not go overboard with their games at the casino.
It is incumbent upon RWB to prevent patrons from getting into financial difficulties or even problems and eventually losing control of their lives. RWB casino personnel should be trained to keep a sharp lookout for problem or difficult gamblers and take suitable measures to deal with them.
While the gambling industry as a whole – both legal and illegal – flourishes, it is timely to point out that the number of people who have ventured into gambling and become casualties have caused a new problem for households and also for the authorities.
In many cases, persons with gambling problems have encountered bankruptcy, health problems, neglect or loss of interest in studies, work and business and have had had problems relating with their loved ones. In certain cases, chronic health conditions, marital problems and suicides have taken place.
While most people see nothing wrong in waging a flutter at the race track or the casino, the subsequent hold and grip of the game has caused many to have an unpleasant and difficult time in managing their thoughts and feelings and have subsequently very little control over their lives.
This malaise usually occurs in the case of a growing number of Malaysian punters nowadays as bettors are betting on chance and the uncertainty of the result normally causes the turmoil of elation and depression. It is the uncertainty – as there is no sure bet – that is really the root of all evil in these games.
Psychologists contend that if punters are able to manage the uncertainties of their game, they should have not much difficulty in having a good time. It is this group of punters who usually have a lasting romance with their games of chance.
Perhaps it is best to consider now the insightful perspective of the late Bertrand Russell, Britain’s leading philosopher and professor of mathematics and logic, who commented about “uncertainty” in his book “Why I am not a Christian.”
He wrote: “Uncertainty baulks the impulse to every irksome effort and generates a tone of frivolous misery, mistakenly thought of as pleasure, but which turns outward and becomes hatred of those who are felt to be its cause.”
Bearing this in mind, it is undoubtedly high time for the authorities and leading lights in the gaming and racing industry to get together to come up with a comprehensive game plan to ensure that if gambling of any form is to take place, it has to be within the threshold of sanity.
As it stands, it appears that both legal and illegal gambling has started to veer out of control in the country creating an ensuing madness.
Christopher Fernandez believes that the gaming and racing industry must look beyond the dollar signs to ensure the wheels of fortune do not get out of control.

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