SINGAPORE – Fuelled by a spike in bets during the 2018 World Cup, a record $8.1 billion was wagered on lotteries and sports betting in the financial year that ended in March last year, according to the Tote Board.
This represents an increase of almost 10 per cent when compared with the $7.4 billion spent on the same games during the preceding financial year.
However, all bets are off during the circuit breaker period, which has been extended to June 1, but sums wagered in the current financial year are unlikely to hit new peaks.
All Singapore Pools outlets, the Singapore Turf Club and the two casinos have been closed since more stringent measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were implemented on April 7.
A Tote Board spokesman told The Straits Times the spike in bets in its financial year that ended in March 2019 was driven largely by the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Lotteries comprise 4-D, Toto and Singapore Sweep, while sports betting refers to soccer and motor racing bets.
No individual breakdown of these games was provided in the Tote Board’s annual report. The Tote Board, a statutory body, governs lottery operator Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club, which operates the horse races.
In fact, the sum total placed on lotteries and sports betting has been increasing almost every year in the past decade. The $8.1 billion wagered on these games represents a 35 per cent increase from the $6 billion placed in bets in the financial year that ended in March 2010.
Counsellors have given reasons behind the enduring popularity of 4-D and Toto.
People can place small bets, these games are easy to play and then there is the lure of million-dollar prizes for Toto. Besides, Singapore Pools outlets are located all over the island and are easily accessible.
Ms Tham Yuen Han, executive director of We Care Community Services, said of 4-D and Toto: “These are usually perceived as more socially acceptable leisure activities, compared to other forms of gambling. Much in the same way that some people exercise to relieve stress and seek pleasure, some see these habits as their pressure-relief valve or leisure activity.”
For many, buying 4-D is a habit that is hard to shake off, counsellors who work with problem gamblers say.
As for the surge in bets in the financial year that ended in March 2019, counsellors say regular punters and problem gamblers tend to bet more during the quadrennial World Cup in the hope of winning big.
Pastor Billy Lee, founder of Blessed Grace Social Services, said: “During the World Cup, there is lots of excitement and everybody is talking about it. Even those who usually have no interest in betting may place a small bet or join their office pool.”
One Hope Centre received about 100 calls for help about two months after the 2018 World Cup ended – double the usual number it receives in a month.
Ms Joanna Kong, the centre’s manager, said these gamblers would look for help only after they have exhausted their savings, family’s goodwill and even avenues such as licensed money lenders.
Meanwhile, horse racing and the casinos have lost their shine among punters here.
While $1.1 billion was betted on horses in each of the financial years that ended in March 2018 and March 2019 , those sums were nowhere near the $2.1 billion high of the financial year that ended in March 2010.
Horse racing is a lot more popular among seniors, counsellors say, while younger men are more into soccer betting.
Likewise, the collected casino entry levies fell from $131 million in the financial year that ended in March 2018 to $125 million in the financial year that ended in March last year.
There has been a steady decline in sums collected as entry levy, which Singaporeans and permanent residents have to pay to enter a casino in Singapore, since the two casinos opened in 2010.
Counsellors say the novelty has worn off among the locals. Besides, many of the addicts are likely to have barred themselves from entering already after losing their fortunes there.
With the circuit breaker measures to stem the spread of the outbreak in effect, counsellors say some people are feeling the withdrawal symptoms of not being able to indulge in betting.
Ms Kong said: “Some people see it as essential, as buying 4D is so common here. And some Singapore Pools outlets are located in supermarkets, so they feel that the supermarket is still open, why not Singapore Pools? It’s a big part of their lives.”
There are no legal gambling avenues here open during this circuit breaker period and major soccer matches are called off all over the world. To fill the void, counsellors say some of the addicts they know have turned to illegal online casinos and new illegal games that have emerged.
For example, the New Paper recently reported that illegal gambling websites are targeting punters in Singapore and other countries by offering the option of betting on the daily number of Covid-19 cases.
A warehouse assistant, 36, who declined to be named, said he has been buying 4D at Singapore Pools for the past decade, betting about $10 each week, hoping to “strike it big”.
He said: “Now we cannot do anything because of Covid-19. The Government asks us to behave, so we must behave.”
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