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Jul 14, 2011
More gamblers seeking help over debts

Losses per adult resident here jumped 53 per cent last year to $1,413
By Huang Lijie

MORE gamblers are seeking help from Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) and other counselling centres for debts that can reach $500,000.

They can chalk up such hefty losses in just a few months after trying and failing to win back money at the casinos which are accessible 24/7, all year round.

Recent data from gaming consultancy H2 Gambling Capital, based in Britain, also revealed that gambling losses incurred here jumped by 53 per cent from $924 per adult resident in 2009, to $1,413 last year.

Counselling centres note that those with heavy debts include well-paid young professionals and blue-collar workers.

In the first half of this year, 149 people sought help for gambling debt at CCS. This figure is already more than half the 239 clients it saw the whole of last year.

The CCS is a debt-counselling organisation, supported by the Association of Banks in Singapore, that offers professional debt-advisory services and provides a debt-restructuring scheme with major consumer banks here.

The centre's head of counselling, Mr Lim Cheng Boon, said recent clients have accumulated bigger losses than before, some as much as $500,000.

He said: 'The casino is so easily accessible and once the gamblers start chasing their losses, they can chalk up big debts.'

Former businessman Tommy Tan, 25, fell into the vicious circle of gambling to try to recoup money lost last year. He visited casinos every day for seven months and his debt ballooned to $100,000.

He said: 'I kept going back because I once won $70,000 by betting just $1,000. So even when I lost money, I didn't give up trying.' He eventually sought help from counselling centre The Silver Lining Community Services.

Reverend Tan Lye Keng, executive director of One Hope Centre, which has counselled gamblers with losses of as much as $300,000, said the '24 hours, seven days a week' environment at casinos makes it easy for even non-high rollers to be saddled with large debt.

Counselling centres help gamblers quit their addiction and find ways to pay back their debt in instalments.

H2 Gambling Capital's head of special projects Joel Keeble told The Straits Times that casinos are the largest contributor to gaming activity in Singapore, followed by 4-D and fruit machines. He said: 'Without the introduction of the casinos, we would have seen much lower levels of growth in gambling losses.'

Its calculations were made from data provided by government and private organisations in Singapore and the region, along with the consultancy's understanding of the global gambling market.

Mr Sean Monaghan, senior consumer and gaming analyst for South-east Asia with HSBC, said data on gambling losses may be skewed by permanent residents. 'Some of the biggest players at the casinos in Singapore are from China but they may hold Singapore PR status,' he said.

The consultancy also predicts gambling losses will rise by 31 per cent to $1,849 per adult resident here this year. Mr Keeble said one reason for this is that people here are reasonably wealthy and there is a high propensity to gamble.

Counsellors such as Madam Jolene Ong, executive director of The Silver Lining, agree that gambling losses here may increase: 'It is so easy for gamblers to borrow money and this helps only to feed their gambling addiction.'

Problem gamblers can turn to measures such as casino exclusion orders to help them stem the habit. As of January, there are 3,816 people on self-exclusion and family exclusion orders.

Another 27,500 people are on third-party exclusion orders because they are on public assistance or are bankrupt.