It is no wonder why our government is pulling out all stops now to tackle problem gambling among the local population. It is apparent that gambling is becoming a serious problem locally.
Social worker friends have told me that there is a spike in people seeking support for their gambling spouses – often the husbands as the debts they carried have spilled over to affect the family.
Some were also affected by debts owed to loan sharks – incurred by gambling spouses out to win back their losses.
When you plant two casinos on the small rich island, you can expect our locals to frequent the casinos even though our Prime Minister has said that they intend to only create gambling misery out of the foreigners.
At the casinos in Macau and Australia, the local population makes up the bulk of gamblers contributing to the coffers in these top two gambling countries.
There are only so many tourists that you could entice to the gambling joints each year and after a while the numbers will fizzle out especially when the novelty has wore off.
Australia surprisingly tops the list of problem gambling countries as jackpots, hotel casino and sports betting kisoks dotted the continent like cafes. Sometimes, I feel that there are more jackpot machines than humans in down under!
For the 2004-2005 year, 56.3% of the total net earnings from gambling came by way of gaming machines. Casino gambling accounted for 16.7%, dog and horse racing 13.4%, and lotteries and football pools pitched in for 9.3% (onlinecasinosuite.com/gambling).
As of June 2005, 76,848 were employed due to the gambling industry. More than half of these were involved with pubs or hospitality clubs. During this same period, there were 5,370 businesses which offered gambling services. 77.8% of these were taverns, hospitality clubs, pubs and bars.
I stayed in Sydney for about three years on and off and was amazed that Tabs – a local giant gambling outfit not unlike that of Singapore Pools is established in almost all of Australia.
If they can build one in the desert they will!
There are several hundred Tabs betting outlets – like the size of cafe shops and each year they collected close to several billions of bets.
Sometimes, you can also find three separate gambling joints of a mixture of jackpots, Tabs and Lotto (national gambling draw like our Toto but carries a much heavier prize of around $3 million) all within a small suburban street.
You can have lunch at a retirees’ club and later go for a pull at the one-armed bandit before placing a sports bet on EPL or NBA game - all within the same premise. Many even offer horse and dog racing bets which you can watch live on TV screens.
I was also shocked to see a hotel chain located in Hurstville – a predominantly Chinese community district, offering black jack gambling inside their hotel compound in full view of the customers eating out at their restaurant nearby.
People of different nationalities would gather at the make-shift table and wager in chip form at the game. Sometimes, argument broke out and you could hear a swear word every few minutes when someone lost in the game.
The ones running the make-shift gambling den are mainly PRC Chinese – probably with the full blessing of the hotel management and government council office.
I always find that Australia has a more serious gambling problem than Singapore due mainly to the locations of the gambling vices in dense residential area and the fact that it is rather easy for any club to doll their premise with jackpot machines.
Down at the quiet suburban area that I stayed in, I could easily locate three gambling spots – the army retiree club, a hotel cum drinking joint and a standalone Tabs outlet. All they are all located within less than 50 feet from each another!
There was even a huge national debate two years ago in Australia to contain gambling on the one-armed bandit as it was thought to be a serious gambling issue that affects many retirees who have lost their pension to the game.
It is estimated that Australia has at least 290, 000 people with a gambling problem.
People who have a problem with their gambling lose an average of A$21,000 a year in Australia. That’s a third of the average annual salary (www.problemgambling.gov.au).
So extensive are the impacts that the social cost of problem gambling to the community is estimated to be at least A$4.7 billion each year.
I began to realise how serious is the gambling problem in down under when the local betting giant Tabs advertised their betting odds on the TV programme before a big live rugby game!
Odds changed rapidly and you can see it live on the normal free-to-air TV channel which to me is amazing.
The Aussies have always love their national rugby tournament and I developed an interest in the game which lasted for nine months culmincating in the round robin cup final match.
Wagers of tens of million dollars will be placed on each game via Tabs with maybe ten times that amount in the private bookie market.
The local Tabs betting outlet will also be open late on Friday night till about 9 pm to cater to the big rugby match which often carries live betting options.
They also have more sophisticated sports betting options down under e.g. number of corner kicks, any goal within a 15-minute playing period or penalty converted. They also offer betting on many other sports – rugby, soocer, tennis, golf, basketball, sailing, etc.
I was glad that Singapore Pools limited sports betting to soccer only though car sports racing has the occasional bet options available.
Personally, I must admit that I have a gambling problem when I started to wager on soccer betting in our Singapore Pools more than 7-8 years ago.
For the love of my EPL matches, I would place bets on games that interest me especially those for my favourite team – Manchester United.
I would initially place $10 bet on each game and slowly developed to $50-wager per game for several matches at one go. The total bet each time at the pools could be a few hundred dollars maximum or an average of about $50 – $100 daily..
I would meet up with neighbours staying nearby and wait for them to exchange betting information on important key EPL matches.
I would also read up on betting website such as goonersguide.com – a respectable website that offers tips and information on most football matches.
My family members became soccer widows when I was often away for most Saturday evenings to watch football matches.
During Saturday or Sunday matches, my friends and I would gather together to watch the games with the betting slips on our hands. Hands turned cold when we lost our bets or beer all around when someone won handsomely.
You be surprised to realise that even with a $10-wager per game, the loss can run into a few thousand dollars annually. as one can bet multiple games on a daily basis with EPL, S-league and other nationalitles’ games thrown in.
This gambling addiction went on for a good long five years though I was trying very hard on the fourth year to break free.
However, I was glad that I didn’t go into bookie betting which often ruins a person’s life as you are given a credit line to bet your games – with lousy odds.
The same disaster can happen if you turn to online betting which is as serious as casino gambling.
Credit is often given out when you pump in some deposit money and in no time, the bookies who run the gambling online betting website will turn to you for debts recovery like loan sharks.
Illegal bookie betting probably runs into several billions annually here due to the favourable credit line given out. Credit lines of as much as five times your deposit money is the norm.
But it is also a sure way to lose money that you don’t have.
That is probably how many gamblers become runners as they owe the bookies debts and have to pay them off by working for them unwillingly.
I always felt that football betting is almost like a drug – you have to get that fix at a certain time/place or you would feel the awful withdrawal effect.
All it takes is a one-month regular betting at the pools and the addiction will start to kick in. Ask any alcoholic or drug addict and they will tell you the same thing.
Psychologists have warned that after 21 days of continuous activity, that particular action will become a habit – be it good or bad.
If you want to develop a penchant for exercise – do it for 21 days regularly and it will become a habit after that.
Personally, I tried to stop sports betting many times after a few months of regular losses on the fourth year but couldn’t and realised that sports gambling is a dangerous addiction – like drugs or alcohol.
I could only stop when I have ran out of funds or something serious happened which distracted my attention when I needed the fix.
After several failed feeble attempts to stop sports gambling, I resorted to going for my jogs during the period that I would be placing my bets to distract myself.
I even distanced myself from my betting kakis.
When all this failed, I knew that I was in serious trouble.
Nevertheless, I never tried to seek help for my gambling problem during that terrible period and moreover there were very few VWOs that offer to help people trapped in gambling addiction.
I was glad that there is a gambling help-site here now that helps compulsive gamblers www.ncpg.org.sg.
More problem gamblers are also seeking help from the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) clinic, that’s based at the Institute of Mental Health (http://news.xin.msn.com/en/singapore/article.aspx?cp-documentid=4219497)
At the clinic, problem gambling accounts for 17 per cent of addiction cases in 2009, up from five per cent in 2007.
As for me, my big break came when I left Singapore to stay in Sydney for a while.
The move literally cut off the gambling addiction as I was alway from the source – Singapore Pools though I was wary of another worse source – Tabs betting outlets in Sydney. There was one just below my street and they offered better soccer bet odds than Singapore Pools!
I woulde wager abit on rugby sometimes but it was never as bad as the period when I would place daily football bets at the Pools.
I would say that my worse is over now and moreover I have very little funds to wager given that fact that I run a non profit organisation without a proper income.
It would also be inappropriate to be a counsellor and have a serious gambling addiction problem myself.
As our government tries to tackle a growing serious gambling problem among the local population at the two casinos, I hope that they will also start to look into stopping the opening of any SingaporePools outlets which number at least 200 by now.
Many gamblers start with buying 4D, Toto and football betting from our friendly neigbhouring Singapore Pools outlets.
When they have earned some money or strike it big somewhere, they will develop their gambling habit at the casinos.
It is not enough just to tackle the gambling problem at the two casinos, the hundreds of Singapore Pools outlets are also huge sources for easy gambling and they need to be reduced.
As for me, I could now walk through a Singapore Pools outlet without having to turn and look at the odds that flashed across the betting screens.
It was a welcomed relief compared to the anxious addictive look many years ago when I passed by one.
Written by: Gilbert Goh