Singapore steps up on proxy gambling

The Singapore government is, encouragingly, keeping its punitive focus on local employers who use foreign workers as proxy gamblers. The strongly worded statements coming from several ministries leave no doubt about the government’s position: the fault lies with the employers, not the foreign workers.

The Straits Times itself has an equally strident editorial which goes one step further by noting the strangely amoral views of employers who described their exploitation of these workers as providing opportunities for wealth and lessons in “life skills”. But the employers are not only amoral, they also seem to believe these absurdities: one quoted in the original article proudly described how he sent multiple foreign workers to gamble as a form of investment diversification. Perhaps Singapore needs to introduce revised math education in addition to its new morals education; both could be funded with a portion of revenues from the gambling industry. Nobody should get though the PSLE without understanding that making bets against the house is a road to poverty, not riches.

The ST editorial laments that “careful crafting of regulations to minimise social harm could not have foreseen unlikely breaches”.  True, this exact scenario would have been hard to imagine, but discouraging Singaporeans and permanent residents from gambling while welcoming foreigners creates an economic system for breaches, at S$100 a breach. With hindsight, isn’t it inevitable that poor foreigners would have been used to circumvent the system?

Gambling by proxy

The Straits Times (Singapore’s main English language newspaper), published a very disturbing article this week about employers who send foreign workers with cash to gamble on the employer’s behalf at one of Singapore’s two casino resorts. If they win, they can keep some of the money. If they lose a little, the employer takes the loss, but “if they [lose] too much money, their pay would be docked.”

The exploitation should be obvious to anyone familiar with the foreign labor environment in Singapore. “Foreign workers” is a catch all term for foreigners at the lower end of the job market: these men and women work in a variety of industries for monthly wages often measured in hundreds of dollars, plus room and board. Live-in maids typically have a small room adjacent to the kitchen of their employer.  For men, rooming is often hostel living or, for construction sites, on-site temporary dormitories. Everything in their lives depends on their continued employment and good relations with their employer. Many of them remit most of their monthly salaries to families back home in India, China, the Philippines or Bangladesh, who depend on them to build a better life.

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