The Polish blogger Michael Petraeus, better known as ‘Critical Spectator’, recently stirred up controversy again by making disparaging remarks about everyday Singaporeans.
On Monday (19 Nov), Petraeus on his Facebook page shared a news article from the Straits Times detailing the Tote Board’s annual report.
The report revealed that punters spent a staggering S$10.3 billion on lotteries and sports betting in Singapore during the financial year ending March 2023.
This amount marked a 12% increase from the previous year’s S$9.2 billion, largely driven by heightened activity during the World Cup held in Qatar from November to December 2022.
This latest figure represents the largest sum wagered in the past decade, surpassing even the financial year ending in March 2019, which also coincided with a World Cup.
In response to this news, Petraeus remarked, “Seriously? S$10 billion spent on lotteries and betting?”
He added, “I don’t want to hear a single complaint about living costs anymore,” seemingly dismissing concerns about the cost of living.
Adding to the perplexity, Madam Ho Ching, former CEO of Temasek and spouse of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, shared the post made by the ‘Critical Spectator’.
It remains unclear whether Madam Ho Ching endorsed the Critical Spectator’s views, which implied that ordinary Singaporeans spent a significant amount on lotteries and betting, suggesting there should be no complaints regarding the cost of living.
Netizens challenge Critical Spectator’s assumption on lotteries spending and cost of living
However, upon examining the comment section of Critical Spectator’s Facebook post, it becomes evident that several netizens have challenged his viewpoints.
Some have highlighted that the Critical Spectator seems to have overlooked crucial aspects regarding the data concerning people’s expenditure on the lottery.
Various netizens emphasized the importance of understanding the context that leads individuals with lower incomes to invest in lotteries.
For many, buying these tickets symbolizes a beacon of hope for a better life. Furthermore, some suggested that the recent surge in the cost of living has potentially pushed some individuals into making desperate bets, clinging to the prospect of a windfall to alleviate their pressing financial hardships.
A comment highlighted that Individuals situated on the lower tiers of the socio-economic pyramid might find themselves restricted to betting on the lottery, while wealthier individuals opt for casinos to seek a more luxurious experience.
Another comment underscored the increased spending on the lottery could indicate a perception among people that the economy is either in a poor state or worsening for them personally.
“People who have little to no money and those who feel like they do not have as much money as they used to, will spend more on the lottery than they would in better economic times,” the comment wrote.
“Lack of understanding of the struggles faced by the less fortunate”
Pat Low, a Singaporean blogger, notably entered the debate, criticizing Mr Petraeus’s comment for displaying a lack of understanding of the struggles faced by the less fortunate.
Furthermore, Low challenged Petraeus by questioning whether his assumptions were based on thorough research.
Netizens raise doubt on Mr Petraeus’s assumption
Some comments have highlighted a fallacy in Mr Petraeus’s assumption.
In fact, Singapore Pools, the sole licensed operator of lotteries and sports betting services in the city-state, chose not to disclose a breakdown of bets placed on various games, citing commercial confidentiality.
As a result, doubts were raised regarding the origin of the S$10 billion spent.
There’s scepticism about the assumption that the entire sum came from individuals with limited financial means.
And true enough, a 2021 survey conducted triennially by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) revealed that the median monthly betting amounts among gamblers decreased from S$30 in 2017 to S$15 in 2020, with 89 per cent of gamblers betting S$100 or less per month.
In response to a netizen’s query, Petraeus defended his viewpoint, emphasizing that the focus should be on the relative value of the money rather than its sheer quantity.
He acknowledged that a significant portion of the total amount likely came from wealthier individuals.
However, he then continued by delving into further bias, stating, “which isn’t that surprising given how Chinese people like to gamble. But they can afford to lose that money.”
He further repeated his comparison about individuals who complain about minor expenses, such as an additional 50 cents for a meal, while simultaneously spending hundreds of dollars annually on Toto.
In reply, the netizen advised Petraeus to consider the mindset of ordinary, hardworking individuals.
The netizen said even those within the grassroots community also harbour dreams of experiencing a better life, and games like Toto/4D offer them a glimmer of hope to achieve this aspiration, despite the bleak odds.
Petraeus claims “many average locals waste money on lotteries”, but lacks supporting data
In response to a netizen highlighting the spectrum of betting sizes within the over S$10 billion spending, Petraeus maintained his stance.
He asserted that he believed numerous average locals often spend money on lotteries while simultaneously expressing dissatisfaction over minor expenses, such as a food container fee.
Additionally, he claimed that affluent individuals are less inclined to participate in these activities.
However, he did not provide specific statistics or data to support his assertion regarding the comparison between the spending habits of average locals and those with higher incomes.
The netizen delved into analyzing the behaviour of these punters, suggesting that they also aspire for a better life and potentially turn to gamble as a source of hope when conventional jobs or even additional part-time work fail to meet their aspirations.
In response, Petraeus emphasized that winning the lottery rarely made anyone wealthy.
He advocated addressing financial challenges through diligent work and education, rejecting the reliance on blind chance.
When a comment surfaced, expressing prejudiced views by suggesting that low-income punters fail due to their reliance on luck over personal effort, a netizen swiftly challenged this notion.
The netizen urged the comment to provide evidence supporting the claim that individuals who engage in betting are failures in life.
Many of them have fought hard in their lives to meet their monthly commitments. If they have a choice, they also want to earn the salary scale of our Civil Services as well as MPs and Ministers if not rich people. Do they have that choice?”
“What is more compelling is that not all lottery ticket buyers are Singaporeans. Over 40% of Singapore’s population consists of foreigners, and Singapore Pools may not know how many foreigners purchase tickets since identification cards are not required for purchase.
“Why not the PAP government get rid of SG Pool?”
A netizen brought up an essential argument that if the government aimed to eliminate gambling behaviors, it could dismantle Singapore Pools, similar to the approach taken with the turf club.
Additionally, the government could enforce a ban on cigarette smoking, mirroring the prohibition of e-cigarettes, if there is a will. However, the netizen highlighted the reasons behind the government’s reluctance to take such measures.
“Firstly they are stopping poor people from buying a hope. The poor have their lotteries while the rich has their investment schemes. “
“Secondly, they are denying the people of a choice in life. “
The netizen pointed out that, ultimately, this move would also hinder substantial revenue collection for the government, leading to increased expenditure on shutting down illegal outlets.