10 December 2004

Casino Royale

It's hard work compiling logs of icq conversations between Alvarny and myself. And very tiring to read the pseudo-debate rage in the Singaporean press and so-called media, where they skip around the issue.

Part III, where we bitch about the absence of actual analysis in the debate

A public violation of an unstated rule goes a long way in establishing or reiterating to spectators the existence of the rule and the deviant status of the act and the person performing the act. In short, this is what happens when someone speaks out of his place.

Exhibit A: NTU adjunct economics professor, as reported in the Today newspaper and the Business Times on 2 December.

2 NTU professors release an abstract or a literature review saying US studies that show casinos will bring more costs than benefits. And quantified it in concrete terms as well: for every dollar of tax revenue gained from the casino, 3 dollars of state or community programmes were required to address the negative social problems from the casino.

There's something about NTU economics professors. They don't play by the rules of responsible academia as typified by NUS dons: never present evidence that contradicts policy directions of the government.

But the statement from the NTU professors really show what's missing from the entire pseudo-debate on the casinos. If there are economic benefits and social costs that cannot be separated at all from a casino, then where are the studies showing that there is a positive balance? And better yet, showing that in monetary terms?

Now in order to present a figure that will close the casino debate, you have to calculate the estimated economic benefit from the casino. Somehow, the MiniLee cabinet has neglected to provide the figures, or even commission unbiased studies to produce the figures. Yet we read in the papers about the gaggle of casino operators preparing papers or presenting preliminary plans to the Government...

Exhibit B: The fait accompli

In any pseudo-debate, there are facts that must be taken for granted as a matter of faith. There are questions that should be left alone, issues that a responsible critic should pass over.

In this case, the fait accompli is the economic success of setting up the casino in Singapore. No voice in the debate has asked for proof, because its success is a foregone conclusion.

Yet responsible economists in the US and UK show that several things have to be considered.

Does the casino draw its main customers from the locality or from abroad?
Does it divert revenue from competing overseas casinos or does it divert from domestic spending?
Does it make the economy grow, or will people just end up substituting normal economic consumption with gambling?

It is not a foregone conclusion, and we are very much in peril for thinking it so.

And of course, it does bring home the question: Where are the grown-up researchers? Where is the responsible debate?

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