Mr Tan Tee How, Chairman, CRA
Mr Jerry See, Chief Executive, CRA
Past and present CRA Board Members and Officers
1. Good morning and thank you for inviting me to your Workplan Seminar and 10th Anniversary commemoration.
2. You saw from the video that we set up CRA in 2008. But this was preceded by several other events. One of them in fact, was a vigorous debate in Parliament, and this went all the way back to 2005. That debate took place after the Government had decided to proceed with two Integrated Resorts (IRs).
3. At the time, we believed it was necessary to develop some new ways forward, as part of the broader strategy to position Singapore as a global and vibrant city. Also, as our workforce profile changed, as our economy developed, we needed to create more opportunities for Singaporeans.
4. However, we were also keenly aware of the potential social harms. We were worried about criminal activities linked to casino gambling. There are too many movies and they are real - not that the movies are real, but the situations they describe are real. We were worried about whether irresponsible casino gaming would wreck lives and families.
5. On MHA’s part, we had therefore to ensure that the IRs are subject to robust regulatory control, to mitigate these concerns.
6. We established a new team in MHA - the Casino Regulation Division (CRD). The role of CRD was to drive the development of the casino regulatory framework, and to build the necessary capabilities. CRD formed the nucleus of what would become CRA three years later.
7. A number of the founding CRD officers are still with CRA today. They include:
* Ms Yeo Pia Jee, current Group Director,
* Ms Ginggi Choy, current Director for Policy & Communications,
* Mr Ee Kiam Keong, current Chief Information Officer.
8. I would really like to thank the founding team for their pioneering work. Through the years of commitment that you have given, casino regulation in Singapore steadily took shape and continued to strengthen.
Early Challenges: 2005-2007
9. But let me recount the early challenges, particularly in the three years between 2005 and 2007.
10. When CRD was established, CRD officers found themselves on a very steep learning curve. They had to start from scratch; nobody within Government had any clue about casino regulations. CRD officers travelled to many countries to learn about casino operations and regulations.
11. There was also an urgent need to build working relationships with the international community of regulators. Mr Raja Kumar, who would later become CRA’s first Chief Executive, made the first contact with the then-Chairman of the International Association of Gaming Regulators.
12. Because of our deep concerns about problem gambling and yet also the desire to make a strong economic success of the IRs, there were very high expectations of CRD. CRD had to put together the legal framework in double quick time. The Casino Control Bill was passed in February 2006, barely six months after CRD was formed.
13. Around the same time, the Requests for Proposals for Marina Bay and Sentosa were launched. While other agencies strategised how the proposals could be made to bring the most benefit to Singapore, CRD officers were meticulously performing probity checks. This was very extensive and tedious work. But it was indispensable, and critical to the IR policy going well, to bring Singaporeans the benefits rather than the harms.
Opening of IRs: 2008-2011
14. In 2008, CRA was born. CRA had to develop and put in place regulations and standards for the casinos. All this, as you heard earlier, with only 30-plus officers, fewer than one-fifth of the present staff strength.
15. There were whole new domains of knowledge that CRA officers had to master. For example, the workings of the casino “cage” (the nerve centre overseeing transactions like the exchange of chips), what the precise rules for each casino game were, what a good surveillance set-up entailed, etc.
16. CRA officers also had to grapple with the technicalities and mathematics of gambling - probability, random number generators, utility theory and all of that. Just imagine what a big leap in knowledge and capabilities was required.
17. At the same time, the two IRs were rapidly recruiting employees. IR employees performing specialised roles in the casinos had to be licensed, and CRA had to keep up with the IRs’ pace of recruitment. In about six months, CRA officers scrutinised and processed over 6,000 licensees.
18. And before anyone could catch their breath, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) opened on 14 February 2010, on the first day of Chinese New Year. It was also Valentine’s
Day. Instead of spending time with their families and loved ones, CRA officers patrolled the casino floor to make sure there were no hiccups.
19. These stories only scratch the surface of CRA’s early work. There were many other critical activities that it had to undertake. Amidst all this work, CRA officers still found the energy and creativity to innovate.
20. They came up with the Casino Licensing Application System (or CLAS). This system cut the administrative hassle of making regulatory submissions. It saved precious time for CRA officers and businesses. The system was the first of its kind amongst Asia-Pacific regulators.
21. In the early years, we also had to react quickly to some unanticipated innovations by the IRs, including their use of shuttle buses to ply the heartlands and CBD areas, to transport people to the casinos. I remember this very well because I was already on the backbench then. MPs got very concerned about this. Many Parliamentary Questions were raised and we had to think hard about what was the right thing to do. The regulations at that point in time did not explicitly prohibit such services. This was perhaps a common or acceptable practice in other jurisdictions. But this was a red line for us. We stood firm, and quickly put a stop to the shuttle service.
22. Looking back, this episode taught CRA the need to lay down OB markers clearly and resolutely. We expect the operators to respect the spirit, and not just the letter of our regulations. To their credit, the operators were willing to take corrective actions. Over the years, they have built a good track record of regulatory compliance, and worked in close partnership with CRA.
23. It would be highly unproductive and unhealthy if the relationship between CRA and the casino operators were one of cat-and-mouse. We would have to come down much harder, give much less flexibility, and there would be greater room for doubt.
Delivering Results Together
24. The results of the past 10 years speak volumes about CRA’s performance, the quality of its leadership and the calibre of its officers.
25. Since 2010, when the IRs started operations, casino-related crime has remained a very small proportion of overall crime in Singapore - well under 1%. We have not detected organised crime linked to casino gambling taking root here. Problem gambling is also under control.
26. Since the IRs started operations, our overall probable pathological and problem gambling rates have been stable, below 1%. This is lower than problem gambling rates in other places, like the US, Canada and Macau.1 But we must never let our guard down.
27. These achievements would not have been possible without the strong social safeguards the Government put in place. One example is the Entry Levy regime. This is a uniquely Singapore policy, the first of its kind in the world.
28. Credit on this front should also go to CRA’s partners - the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and very importantly, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).
29. Right from the start, MSF and NCPG put in place a robust Exclusion Regime. They barred selected individuals from entering the casinos - these are vulnerable individuals and those whose gambling behaviours would likely harm their families. In 2012, NCPG and MSF introduced the Visit Limit regime, to help at-risk gamblers reduce their exposure to gambling.
30. All these innovations have attracted keen interest from foreign regulators. They have been engaging CRA regularly, to learn from our experience.
31. As another mark of how far CRA has come - in 2012, CRA became the first Asian regulator to host delegates from the International Association of Gaming Regulators. This is a key forum where regulators from all over the world come together to exchange best practices and views on important issues.
32. Though CRA was a young member of the Association, our officers stood shoulder to shoulder with more experienced delegates, to share about CRA’s work and explain and justify our perspectives and policies. It was a good learning opportunity, and a coming of age for CRA on the international stage.
Appreciation for the People at CRA
33. CRA’s achievements attest to its outstanding leadership and staff.
34. Mr Richard Magnus, CRA’s first Chairman, laid down solid foundations. He provided sound legal guidance on the new regulatory frameworks, and put in place systems for robust corporate governance, including a whistle blower policy.
35. Mr Lee Tzu Yang, CRA’s second Chairman, guided CRA to establish closer ties with other regulators. CRA now has a solid reputation within the global community of regulators. Mr Lee’s drive has also inspired CRA officers to go in-depth to learn about developments in the industry.
36. I would also like to thank Mr Tan Tee How, CRA’s third and present Chairman, for stepping up to the plate. We are confident that you will bring CRA to greater heights.
37. To past and present Chief Executives - Mr Raja Kumar, Mr Lau Peet Meng, Mr Jerry See - you and your staff have had to deal with endless exigencies, often at
odd hours and over public holidays. But under your leadership, and with the dedication of the CRA staff, CRA has always risen to the occasion.
38. Next, our Board members, who bring valuable and diverse viewpoints to the table. I heard how our pioneering Board members set aside personal time for learning journeys to the front- and back-of-house activities at our IRs. They also travelled overseas to ramp up their knowledge. Indeed, they were in the trenches with the CRA staff.
39. But above all, I would like to acknowledge and thank our CRA officers, both past and present. You have worked with full integrity and dedication to deliver on CRA’s mission. CRA would otherwise not be where it is today.
40. Let me say something about the challenges ahead. The first 10 years of CRA’s journey have not been easy, and we can expect even greater challenges going forward.
41. First, competition for tourism revenues will get very much more intense.
42. Even when I visited Incheon Airport as part of my aviation hat in the Ministry of Transport, way back in 2012, the Chief Executive of Incheon Airport was unabashed about showing me their plans to develop the gaming industry in Incheon. I remember very distinctly that the photograph that they showed in their presentation to me about their plans, was actually that of our IRs - our Marina Bay Sands. And I remember him saying to me way back in 2012: “You know, the whole North East Asian market, why should they travel five hours to go to Singapore for gaming? We are just an hour away from them.” This was in 2012.
43. Many jurisdictions in our region are keenly studying our IR concept. They continue to do so, and they want to do better than us. They seek to emulate and go beyond. So, our IRs will be anxious to stay ahead of the competition.
44. On the one hand, CRA must continue to ensure robust and effective regulations and social safeguards. As I said earlier, we must never let our guard down against problem gambling. We always have to keep addressing and arresting the risk. On the other hand, CRA has to ensure that our IRs have sufficient space to innovate and adapt, so that they continue to generate economic benefits for Singapore and good jobs for Singaporeans. It will be a challenge. I think CRA will have to strike a very fine balance.
45. The second challenge stems from technological developments, which are rapidly transforming the gaming landscape. For instance, a few casinos are experimenting with new machines and game types. There are also new payment modes, which will have implications on how casino regulators establish controls to prevent money laundering.
46. In order for CRA to keep up with the rapid changes in technology, CRA has to invest heavily in its people. CRA has been sending officers to conferences and
courses to sharpen their skills. More would have to be done, to ensure CRA officers are kept abreast of technology and its impact. CRA must also continue to work closely with other regulators (e.g. Monetary Authority of Singapore), and draw lessons from their experiences.
47. Apart from the two challenges of international competition and technological developments, MHA has been studying the broader gambling regulatory regime in Singapore. Today, we have different laws and rules governing various gambling products - such as casinos, remote gambling and fruit machines operated by private clubs. There are also different policy owners and regulatory agencies. This approach will not be sustainable or adequate to deal with the growing complexities of the gambling landscape and products.
48. There is therefore scope to consider greater consolidation of regulatory functions so that they are not piecemeal and fragmented. This will allow for a more holistic and coherent regime to regulate the range of gambling products in the market. CRA will undoubtedly play a significant role, as the regulatory landscape in Singapore evolves.
49. As I was thinking through this morning’s session, I recalled that as a teenager, I used to enjoy watching on television, the Tour de France. The first Tour de France started in 1903. It is well-known as the most gruelling of bicycle races. It stretches across three weeks, 21 days of racing, with two days in between to rest. The whole circuit of the Tour de France is 3,500 kilometres. The competition is intense - there are 20 to 22 teams, and each team has nine members.
50. So, when I was thinking about everything we are asking you to do - strike a fine balance between giving room to innovate and yet ensure social safeguards are kept, keep pace with technological developments, stay ahead, and also the evolving regulatory landscape - what we are asking you to do is to be like a team in the Tour de France. The question is if you are in the Tour de France, what does it take to complete the race, because even completing it is not easy, but what does it take to win?
51. Let us start with the fact that this is a bicycle. With a bicycle, you always need balance. But it is not static balance. The balance is in the momentum. It is a dynamic balance, and that is the balance you need to strike.
52. The second is that you need agility. You are going to have to be flexible. There is a certain amount of speed involved. It is not just brute, mindless speed. It is agility - speed combined with flexibility, and that comes through a lot of skill. In some sense, at an individual level, every member needs to have that dynamic balance and has to be agile. As a team of nine, they also need stamina. It is the same for you. It is for the long haul. You need stamina, and stamina can only come from training – in your context that would mean capabilities being built all the time. So, you have balance, agility and stamina.
53. Remember that this is not a cycling machine. It is natural terrain, and the terrain changes. And when the terrain changes, you need strategy. You need to assess where you are in the competition, weigh the options available to you, and then make a decision. What is the best way forward? Your strategy will have to evolve.
54. For everyone who might have followed the Tour de France, you know that it is ultimately not just to win, but to win with honour and dignity. You need integrity. The Tour de France is one of those sporting activities where it is susceptible to doping. So CRA always has to be anchored, even in this landscape of intense competition, integrity will have to stay at the heart of the organisation.
55. CRA has come a long way. Past and present Board members and officers should be very proud of what you have achieved. We thank you for your contributions, and congratulate you on your tenth anniversary. I encourage you to keep up your good work, and stay true to CRA’s mission.
56. Thank you very much.