Be it yearly mahjong sessions during Chinese New Year or weekly poker nights with the boys, social gambling is common practice in Singapore. For most, these games are harmless fun, but what happens when gambling turns into a habit, or worse, an addiction?
Gambling addiction (or problem gambling) can wreak havoc on your personal relationships and cost you your financial freedom. Whether it is you, a close friend, or a family member who cannot stop betting on 4D or toto at Singapore Pools, it’s best to seek help sooner than later.
Here’s an overview of the key signs of a gambling addiction, some tips to help with problem gambling, as well as the helplines and gambling treatment options in Singapore.
Q: Do I have a gambling addiction?
Gambling addiction is also known as compulsive gambling, and is actually an impulse-control disorder. It happens when gamblers cannot control the impulse to gamble, and these tendencies start to affect other aspects of their life. This is possible because gambling literally stimulates your brain’s reward system, giving you a ‘high’ similar to that of alcohol or drugs.
For example, a gambling addict would continue betting money even though they are aware of their rolling debt, and that such behaviour is straining their relationship with their family.
Gambling addiction is a ‘hidden illness’ - unlike many other kinds of addiction (like substance abuse), there are hardly any physical signs like withdrawal symptoms and depression. The key indicators are the effects of the problem gambling on the addict’s finances and personal relationships.
To find out if you have a likely gambling addiction, you can take a self-test on the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) site.
Q: How do I cut down on gambling?
If you don’t think you’ve reached the stage of an addict, but don’t want your social gambling habits to spiral out of control, there are some ways to keep yourself in check.
1. Set a fixed time and budget for gambling
A good way to restrict yourself is to simply limit how much and for how long you gamble. For example, you can say you’ll only gamble once a month for 2 hours, and with a maximum of $200. On the day itself, set an alarm to remind you to stop.
2. Keep a record of each time you gamble
You should also keep a record of your gambling sessions. Each time you note it down, you’re reminded of how frequently you gamble, and how much money you’ve lost so far.
3. Don’t gamble when you’re emotional
It’s generally good practice to avoid spending money when you’re feeling very angry and/or upset about something. One defining factor of addiction is when you consistently use something to make yourself feel better.
4. Tell your friends and family that you’re trying to stop
By making a public commitment, you are more likely to keep to it. Your friends and family who truly care about you will also do their part by giving you timely reminders, and avoid suggesting social gambling during get-togethers.
5. Do not drink while gambling
This sounds like a no-brainer, but even if you’re not drinking heavily, it’s best to avoid alcohol entirely while gambling. Alcohol affects your judgement, and can quickly lead to compulsive gambling.
Q: How can I help a gambling addict to quit?
If you are not a gambler but your family member is, you may be even more aware of the negative effects gambling has on loved ones. How can you help family members who are facing this problem?
Singapore National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)
NCPG recommends that you first check if they are agreeable to seeking professional help. If so, you can arrange for a counselling session (more on that below) and/or call the NCPG helpline for more guidance on treating the addiction.
If they do not consent to an intervention, you can still reach out through the NCPG helpline - the counsellors can help you better understand how you can help them, depending on your unique situation. Here are more ways you can seek intervention on gambling addiction.
National Problem Gambling hotline and webchat
If you would like to maintain anonymity, you can call the helpline or use the online web chat function to find out more about the various gambling management options NCPG offers (counselling, exclusion and visit limit, and referrals for more related services.
The helpline is 1800-6-668-668. Both the helpline and web chat is available from 8am to 11pm, manned by trained para-counsellors.
Free gambling addiction counselling
NCPG offers free counselling services to help those affected. Counselling can help gambling addicts understand the causes of the problem and the undesirable effects it has on their family.
Counsellors will guide and support gambling addicts in terms of 1) proper money management, 2) relapse prevention, 3) stress management and 4) improving relationships with family.
The NCPG-appointed counselling agency is The Resilienz Clinic.
The Resilienz Clinic
Address: 10 Sinaran Drive, #10-03 Novena Medical Centre Singapore 307506
Tel: 6397 7300
Email: [email protected]
You can also choose to voluntarily ‘ban’ yourself or a loved one from casinos in Singapore. There are two types: self-exclusion and family exclusion. The latter is for immediate family members to apply for an exclusion on behalf of another family member (the one with a gambling problem).
To apply, Singaporeans/PRs can apply online via NCPG. Foreigners must submit a physical application either by post or in person.
If you are undischarged bankrupt, receiving financial aid from the government or have over six months of rental arrears, you will be automatically banned from casinos.
Casino visit limits
There is also a softer casino ‘ban’ available - you can limit the number of monthly visits to the casino. Likewise, you can either apply for this for yourself, or for an immediate family member.
Casino visit limits are only for Singaporeans and PRs though, foreigners cannot apply.
Exclusion from Singapore Pools and private club jackpot machines
Lastly, you can also ban yourself or a loved one from gambling online via Singapore Pools and at local jackpot machines operated by private clubs.
Application is through the NCPG website online, by post or in person at the NCPG office.
More counselling and support group options, and subsidised gambling addiction treatment
Although not affiliated with NCPG, there are other organisations that provide counselling, group support services and subsidised treatment options. You can see the full list on NCPG’s website.
Final note: beware of illegal online gambling sites!
While many of NCPG’s support measures focus on limiting the gambling addict’s access to local casinos and government lottery services, it pays to beware of illegal online gambling sites as well.
For family members concerned about their loved ones, online gambling habits are even harder to detect because they can be done anytime, anywhere.
Even though the Remote Gambling Act was enacted in 2016 to clamp down on illegal online betting sites, these ‘services’ are still available. In fact, they’re especially rampant in today’s context whereby it’s much harder to visit a physical casino.
In April 2020, The New Paper reported that they found at least five illegal gambling sites that were taking bets on the number of daily COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
Those caught betting illegally online can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to six months. The providers, on the other hand, can be fined up to $200,000 and/or jailed for up to five years.
Many people start gambling for fun, but gradually get hooked onto it. It is foolish to think that gambling outcomes can be predicted and that it can earn you ‘easy money’. There is no such thing, and the likelihood of ever winning is very slim.
If you suspect you or a loved one is at risk of gambling addiction or is already struggling with it, it’s best to seek help soonest.