When they first opened, there was some excitement over the issue of migrant workers going to Singapore’s casinos. During the first week after the Resorts World casino opened on Sentosa Island, there were reports that male migrant workers were ‘swarming’ it, grabbing free drinks and generally getting in the way of local gamblers – and, as foreign nationals, they didn’t have to pay $100 to do so. It was implied that they drifted around without spending money.

At the beginning of November, there were reports in the media of workers going to the casinos and gambling heavily. The case of ‘Ramesh’, who gambled away his $2,000 of savings and went into debt for $1,500 within a week was mentioned in a report by Melissa Kok and The Joo Lin.* Some people wrote to ‘Straits Times’ and expressed the view in blogs that migrant workers should be barred from going into the casinos for their own protection. One writer expressed surprise that ‘the authorities, employers and migrant worker help groups are only now discussing ways to tackle the problem of gambling in casinos by foreign workers.’

The consequences of gambling and losing money may be particularly severe for migrant workers who can’t resist the draw of a casino, but the issue is not really different in kind from that of low paid Singaporeans. Help is offered for problem gamblers and they can voluntarily have themselves excluded, but low income Singaporeans are not barred from gambling at the casinos, and I don’t think it would be right to bar migrant workers, much as the results of gambling can be harmful to them. TWC2 has argued for migrant workers to have protections under law because they need them as migrants and as workers, but we’ve not been in favour of ‘protective’ measures that treat migrant workers as if they are children at risk of moral degradation. They are adults whose right to make decisions about right and wrong should be considered to be the same as that of Singapore nationals. By all means, let help and advice be offered, but let’s not ‘baby’ migrant workers.

John Gee

*Straits Times, November 6, 2010: It’s off to the gambling tables on their days off