Study needed into impact of televised bingo

The televising of bingo games in Samoa is making news headlines again with the Palauli Sisifo Member of Parliament, Afoa Amituanai Mauli, repeating calls for the Government to revisit its decision to broadcast it on national television.

The MP initially made the call in January during the debate in Parliament of the 2019-2020 Supplementary Budget, where he expressed concern at the exposure of children to a form of gambling through television.

His attempts to read a letter he wrote to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell, were nullified when the Minister intervened and told Parliament that the letter was outdated and the legislation was passed in previous years.

Lautafi maintained that it is the responsibility of parents to ensure their children are not watching television when bingo games are on air.

 “It is the responsibility of the parent – the ministries can’t go inside people’s home – to make sure their children are asleep,” he said. “But the game is on air at 10pm for an hour and it’s been aired at that time because by then children should already be in bed.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi supported the Minister and added that if the MP wanted to ban televised bingo, then all forms of bingo games including those hosted by churches as a form of fundraising should also be banned.

But Afoa has not back down – despite opposition by Lautafi and Tuilaepa – and repeated his call in a story published in the February 23, 2020 Sunday Samoan for amendments to the Gambling Control Act, which would see bingo removed from national television.

“My issue is with bingo being screened on television and into family homes where children are present,” he said. “The Minister (of Public Enterprise) is saying that there is a warning notice that comes up before the game, saying its R21 (rated) and it's being aired late at night. But the issue is the Gambling Authority passing on the responsibility to the parents to tell their children to go to sleep when it's their responsibility to regulate this.”

Bingo – amongst the various forms of gambling available around the world today – can be considered low risk, as a public health issue. In fact, here in Samoa, it is considered a game of entertainment and is a major part of churches’ fundraising programs. 

Tuilaepa alluded to this, when he made a rebuttal of Afoa’s statement in Parliament last month, warning that any decision to ban it will have an impact on churches in the MP’s own constituency.

But in retrospect Afoa’s concerns does warrant the Government revisiting the issue, especially when bingo now takes up a lot of parents’ time after-hours as well as personal finances. There are homes where parents opt to turn to television, as a form of babysitting in their absence, while they are away playing bingo!

With bingo now becoming a normal part of life for a lot of individuals, the risks of becoming addicted due to excessive hours of playing are high. And with these comes other dangers such as child negligence and vulnerability to poverty, as parents overlook the importance of savings in order to feed their gambling habits.

Therefore, we believe there is merit in the MP’s appeal for the issue to be revisited by the Government. 

In fact September this year will mark three years since the televising of bingo started, after the Sinaupualofa Foundation and So’oula Traders agreed to a partnership in September 2017 to bring the game to TV screens. 

The initiative was an attempt to reduce the risks of domestic violence by giving home-based mothers the opportunity to watch-and-play.

The inspiration behind the initiative in 2017 was noble – as a way to reduce the risks of mothers becoming gender-based violence victims – but a lot has happened in the last two-plus years, which warrants a review of the policy.

An independent national study into the impact of televising bingo in Samoa, which would consider the benefits of such a policy to bingo-playing families and its impact on vulnerable family members such as children, should be considered.

The commissioning of an independent national study into the issue by the Government would be a step in the right direction, not only for Afoa’s constituency but the country as a whole.

The findings and recommendations of the independent national study should then be used to formulate the official policy, which ultimately should address societal concerns such as reducing a child’s exposure to gambling.  

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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