Is the government hedging its bets?
If graphic warnings on the hazards of smoking can be printed on every cigarette pack, why can’t similar graphics about the ill effects of gambling be posted on billboards in the vicinity of a casino?
It may sound like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but reformed gambling addict Michael Abcede, founder of Mamamayang Ayaw sa Sugal (MASS), wants the billboard graphics to amplify the hazards of gambling, much like drugs and cigarettes.
Thirty-seven people perished inside Resorts World Manila on June 2 after Jessie Carlos torched the casino’s gambling tables before killing himself. Police said Carlos, 42, was drowning in debts due to uncontrolled gambling.
The tragic incident opened public discussion on gambling, seen by many as entertainment and leisure.
But according to Dr. Clara H. Fuderanan, an addiction specialist, pathologic gambling is a mental disorder and the only behavioral addiction included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (5th Edition).
“Our culture sees gambling as leisure, that’s why it’s seldom discussed in public. Often, the addicted player is brought to medical attention by the family, but the player does not admit [the disorder],” Fuderanan said.
The country’s gambling industry is regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which President Ferdinand Marcos created in 1976.
From the single floating Pagcor-owned casino on Manila Bay, the industry has flourished into 62 casinos nationwide, according to the World Casino Directory (see list).
Macau, one of the world’s premier gaming destinations, has 49 casinos.
The country’s gaming revenues have been increasing as well, such that Credit Suisse sees the Philippines generating $6 billion in gaming revenues in 2018, pushing it among the Top 4 most lucrative in the world.
In 2020, the first gaming complex in Quezon City is expected to rise on the corner of Agham Road and Quezon Avenue. The P1.9-billion Solaire Quezon City will have as neighbors the National Children’s Hospital, the Office of the Ombudsman, Philippine Science High School, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Lung Center of the Philippines.
Abcede warns of the dangers of building casinos in areas frequented by young people and ordinary citizens. “If Pagcor were really serious in its responsible gaming advocacy, it should limit the casinos’ operation hours to 12, even 15 hours. They should be closed during daytime,” he added.
“Casinos are luring people by packaging the venue as a hotel, restaurant, even a play kingdom for children. But their core product is gambling,” Abcede said.
An independent media producer, Connie A (not her real name) said her mother used to go out to dine with friends. “One day we found her with a string of debts that we traced to a casino financier. But how do we stop her? She’s 83 years old,” she said.
Slot machine hall
Connie’s mother frequents a Pagcor slot machine hall in Sta. Mesa, Manila, which appears to be favored by the elderly. The venue was obviously designed for senior citizens: There are no stairs and it’s conveniently near an LRT station.
Also ubiquitous in the area are men with clutch bags.
“They are the financiers, or the runners of financiers,” Abcede explained.
“Educational attainment, upbringing or family background do not matter when one is gambling,” he added. “The addiction can start in an hour or a day, unlike shabu which takes several sessions. It will really ruin your life.”
Abcede said the government had a responsibility in maintaining the good mental and physical health of its citizens.
“The government admits that shabu destroys lives, and that it should not be legalized. But the government will not admit gambling destroys lives. It is even promoted as charity,” he said.
Cibac party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, vice chair of the House committee on games and amusement, agreed that antigambling advisories were part of government’s responsibility, but said graphic warnings must be backed by “scientific data.”
“Do we have statistics on Filipinos addicted to gambling? Is there a study to support such claims?” he asked.
Abcede said awareness of the dangers of gambling should be part of the school curriculum and public service announcements on mass media, like billboards.
“If people are made aware of [such dangers], they’d have second thoughts about going to the casino,” Abcede said, adding that a casino ban would not always work.
“Show the guards a bundle of money and they let you in,” said this former gambling addict who was banned several times in the past.
Closing the casino during daytime will also give players time to go home and rest, Abcede said, adding that he had witnessed four people die inside a casino— two from a heart attack and two from exhaustion due to lack of sleep.
In a meeting with Pagcor recently, Abcede said the agency wanted MASS to help propagate gaming responsibility and monitor casinos for possible problem gamblers.
But Abcede said the group was opposed to having casinos at all. “I think we are on opposite sides,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.