Happenings

Gambling addiction a dangerous ‘whirlpool’

Jun 2005    

THE Singapore Government has decided to allow the building of two Integrated Resorts (IRs) with the casino an integral component. The legalisation of casinos may increase social problems that already exist from addiction to existing gambling opportunities.

Addiction to gambling is like a dangerous “whirlpool”, when a person caught in it is helplessly sucked into it and loses a1l focus on what is really important in life. He becomes preoccupied with “winning big” and fantasises on how life could change with great wealth. As a result, he loses focus on his job and lives on an unreal “hope” that becomes all-consuming. He will increase his stake even when he loses, hoping for a win to cover his losses. This downward spiral will not stop until he is hit with a mountain of insurmountable debts.

A gambler is usually unable to keep his job as his mind is always preoccupied with the hope of winning in the next gambling session. He is also likely to cheat his employer once his financial situation becomes desperate. By that time or when he becomes an undischarged bankrupt, no one will be willing to employ him.

Gambling also affects those who are close to him. The wife is usually the one who suffers greatly. She has to share the burden of the debts incurred, and this usually leads to quarrels and fights between husband and wife. Sometimes, the wife bears the brunt of the husband’s frustration as he physically abuses her.

The “sin” of the husband becomes an embarrassment to her, the subject of conversation of relatives, friends and neighbours. Hence, she is likely to feel isolated and depressed. She may also entertain suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, she may also lose her job as her employer fears that she will cheat. Divorce becomes an option, as the wife may no longer want to share the problem created by the husband’s irresponsible behaviour.

The strain on marital relationship will inevitably affect the children. In an unstable family environment, fraught with constant quarrels and fights, children will feel very insecure and frightened and will not able to focus on their studies. As they realise what has happened, their fear will turn into anger as they, too, will feel betrayed.

Here are three real-life stories. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

Govi’s story

Although a young and playful lad, life improved for Govi after National Service when he completed his “N” levels and got himself a stable job as a bus driver, and married a pre-school teacher for more than 15 years. Although they had no children, life was blissful.

To his mother, he was the most trusted son to whom she entrusted her entire life’s savings of $300,000 as she was worried about her own ill health.

Two years ago, Govi’s happy family life began to crumble. Invited to join friends for a cruise, he was introduced to the casino on board. At first, Govi won some money but he became addicted and began to frequent casinos in neighbouring countries.

Raising his stakes with every visit, he also began to lose. In no time, he had wiped out his own savings and his mother’s savings, and borrowed heavily from the banks using credit cards.

Govi is now jobless, and is on the verge of being declared a bankrupt. His mother does not know that he has gambled away her savings. He has contemplated suicide.

His wife has not left him, but she cannot help him and has become depressed, unable to focus on her job.

David’s story

David was a bright 11-year-old boy, always among the top 10 students in his class, until last year when he began taunting his classmates and showed defiance towards his teachers. His problems started when his father was unable to pay for his gambling debts and borrowed from loan sharks who started to harass his family. To pay them, he borrowed from relatives and friends.

David’s parents also began to quarrel frequently as there was not enough money to pay for household expenses. David’s father lost his job, and in order to stop the loan sharks from harassing his family members, left the family and has not been in contact with them for more than a year.

All this embarrassed David who became frustrated and refused to go to school. What made him really angry was when neighbours asked him or his mother about their family problems. He felt very embarrassed and began to suspect that his neighbours and friends were always talking about him.

To pay off personal loans given by relatives and friends, David’s mother has had to work on two jobs. Counsellors engaged by the school are also now helping David.

Poh Heng’s story

The only child, Poh Heng is a 10-year-old boy. Last year, he could not control his temper and often threw tantrums in class and frequently fought with his classmates. His school referred him for counselling which discovered that, although good-natured and usually polite, his bouts of tantrums came from his anger with his father for abandoning the family.

Problems in his family started last year when his father and mother quarrelled over having insufficient money to pay for household expenses. His mother found out that her husband had gambled away their family savings. The quarrels became very frequent. In June last year, Poh Heng’s father left the family. No one knows his whereabouts.

Poh Heng’s mother was a housewife. Because of the abandonment, she now works in the market as a stall assistant to support her family.

These sad tales illustrate how gambling can ruin an individual and haunt the family members. Dealing with an anticipated rise in broken persons and families through education and rehabilitation poses a challenge to the Church as well as the wider community.

Tan Khye Suan is the Director of the Methodist Children and Youth Centre.

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