Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to be here today to witness the inaugural Workplan Seminar of the Casino Regulatory Authority.
Major Milestones Achieved By The CRA
2. The CRA started out as a small team in MHA in June 2005. It was charged with the responsibility of developing regulatory expertise and supporting the national initiative to develop Integrated Resorts in Singapore.
3. The team’s first milestone was the successful conclusion of the probity investigations on the bidders for our IR project. Such investigations are a core function of casino regulation, and ensured that only suitable parties can develop and operate casinos. Despite the lack of institutional experience and intense time pressure, the team performed credibly and should be commended.
4. The team also played an integral role in developing the regulatory framework and the Casino Control Act. The law was developed based on our regulatory objectives, overseas best practices, inter-agency consultation, and industry feedback. Much work was undertaken to put together a legislative and regulatory framework that aims to firmly and fairly regulate the two casinos in Singapore. It will put us in a strong position to tackle the potential law and order issues, while providing a business friendly environment for the IRs.
5. The CRA was officially made a statutory board on 2 Apr last year. The team has come a long way since. Within a short span of time, it is building up its expertise in casino regulation and has earned its reputation as a trusted partner and serious regulator in the international community of gambling regulators with CE/CRA in the Steering Committee of the International Association of Gaming Regulators.
6. The Board is chaired by Mr. Richard Magnus and comprises twelve other members who have led distinguished careers and are leaders in their fields. I am confident that the Board will guide the CRA in its journey towards regulatory and organisational excellence.
The Challenges Ahead
7. When the government decided to proceed with the IR project, we were fully aware of the trade-offs. During the debate in Parliament in April 2005, I spoke of the impact of the casinos on the moral tone of our society. While we seek to reap the job and tourism benefits of the IR, we must guard against any fallout in crime and social problems. The challenge before us is to balance the competing imperatives. The CRA as part of the Home Team must do this by anticipating, learning and responding quickly each time we are challenged with new situations and issues.
8. First, as a new casino jurisdiction, organised crime groups may view Singapore as an easy target. Newly opened casinos are often the subject of syndicate scams during the inexperience and mess. The undesirable activities such as prostitution, illegal money lending, cheating and forgery are also associated with casinos. The CRA, working with Police, must build its investigative and enforcement capabilities to keep check of such illegal activities.
9. Second, with the growth of Singapore as a financial hub, we need to be ever vigilant against money-laundering activities. This is even more so for the casinos where there is a constant flow of large amounts of cash and chips. To protect the integrity of casino games and the financial transactions against cheats and other criminals, the CRA must ensure that operators put in place and observe a robust anti-money laundering regime in line with international standards.
10. Third, many crimes in the casinos are committed by persons colluding with casino employees. These crimes can range from small-scale schemes such as cheating at tables to more sophisticated schemes such as money-laundering, particularly in the case of junkets where large sums of money are transacted between the junket operators, their high-roller clients and the casino. Shareholders and business associates of the casino operators are another possible avenue for criminal infiltration. To safeguard the integrity of our casinos, the CRA will need to ensure strict internal controls and conduct thorough probity checks on key casino employees, associates and the junket operators.
11. To meet the law and order challenge, beyond the CRA, the Home Team is building up its other capabilities. The Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force will open a new Neighbourhood Police Centre and Fire Station in the Marina Bay area to cater to the demand arising from the Marina developments. The NPC will begin its operations by the end of this year and construction for both the NPC and Fire Station are expected to be completed in 2012. They will work closely with the building owners and security managers in the area. The Criminal Investigation Department will be setting up a Casino Investigation Branch, or CIB in short, which will have satellite offices co-located with the CRA in the casinos, to detect and investigate casino-related crimes that may impact on the integrity of gaming operations such as forgery of gaming chips. The CRA will work closely with the CIB. I am pleased to note in this regard that the CRA and the CIB will co-organise a Training Symposium in July 2009 to train and gear its officers for the opening of the two casinos.
12. With the presence of the two casinos in Singapore, the risk of social fallout issues, such as a potential increase in problem gambling, cannot be under-estimated. It is therefore important to ensure that we have strong safeguards and interventions in place.
13. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is taking the lead on such social issues. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) has been formed since 2005 to work with the community to reduce the impact of problem gambling on individuals, families and the society. The CRA will work closely with MCYS to mitigate the impact of the social ills and to ensure that social safeguards such as the entry levy system and exclusion orders for problem gamblers and other vulnerable groups are well implemented in the casinos.
14. The two Integrated Resorts can potentially bring significant economic benefits to Singapore. Yet we know, there are risks that we need to manage. The Home Team will help provide the right environment to help the industry succeed by taking a tough stance against those who attempt to threaten the safety and order of our country. The CRA, as the part of the Home Team responsible for regulating the casinos, will play a key role in this, through fair consultation with the industry. I am sure the CRA’s outcome-based approach would strike a balance between both the public’s and national interests as well those of stakeholders and the industry players.
15. I thank all CRA officers for your professional work and dedicated efforts and I would also like to thank the board members for working so hard over the past year. I am confident that the CRA will continue to learn the business, develop the requisite mastery and build resilience to fulfill its mission and meet the challenges ahead.
16. On this note, I now declare the CRA Workplan Seminar 2009 open and I wish you all a fruitful seminar ahead.