Dad cashed out son's education fund to gamble

PHOTO: Dad cashed out son's education fund to gamble

A father was so hooked on soccer betting that he cashed out his 10-year-old son's insurance policy to support his addiction.

Peter (not his real name) was in debt to the tune of $200,000, which he had borrowed from banks, moneylenders and loan sharks.

As a last resort, the administrative officer in his early 30s cashed out his son's endowment policy, which he had bought in 2006 for the boy's future education.

Peter's story was shared by Ms Anne Chui, a counsellor from the National Addictions Management Service (Nams), at a problem gambling forum last Saturday.

The event was held to help educate the public about issues related to problem gambling.

A Lianhe Zaobao report last week said the Addiction Medicine Clinic at Changi General Hospital has treated more people for problems related to gambling.

It treated 47 such patients last year, up from 34 in 2010.

Ms Chui told The New Paper that she met Peter in 2009, over 10 years after he had been exposed to soccer betting while serving national service.

For a decade, his bets were small, mostly under $100. But he had a big win in 2008.

With just a $100 bet, he won over $5,000. This win made him believe that he could make big money through betting.

He was hoping to win big

Hoping to win big

So he started betting larger amounts. But his luck soon ran out. He started losing and fell into debt.

Within two months, he gambled away $10,000 from a joint account he held with his wife, also an administrative worker in her 30s.

Peter then applied for credit cards and maxed them out. He also took out bank loans to fuel his gambling habit.

When the banks wouldn't lend him any more money, he turned to moneylenders. And when they didn't lend him any more, he turned to loan sharks.

At his worst, his loans amounted to over $200,000, and the banks' monthly repayment plan cost more than his $3,000 monthly salary.

That was when Peter cashed out his son's insurance policy. The boy was then in Primary 4.

Said Ms Chui: "He was hoping he could win big. He had the mentality that as long as he had money, there was a chance that he could win everything back.

"The amount he redeemed was actually quite small, maybe even less than the premiums he paid, as the policy was only bought for three years.

"But he was desperate."

Initially, Peter's wife was unaware that he had cashed out their son's policy. But one day, she came across a letter from the insurance company about the cancellation.

She was furious.

Added Ms Chui: "The couple got into a major fight. It was revealed that Peter's wife kept yelling 'How could you do this to our child?'

"She was even angrier and more emotional than when he borrowed from loan sharks.

"I guess this was because the money meant a lot to the child's education."

Wife threatened to leave him

Threatened to divorce him

Peter's wife threatened to divorce him unless he sought help for his gambling addiction. Only then did he call the National Problem Gambling Helpline.

Peter started attending counselling sessions at Nams and also joined a weekly support group for people facing difficulties with problem gambling.

Thankfully, he managed to turn his life around.

He managed to negotiate for a more favourable repayment plan with the banks. He also stopped all forms of gambling.

While it will take more than a decade to repay his debts, he is not bankrupt and still has a job. Last year, he even bought a new insurance policy for his son.

Ms Chui said: "The turning point was surrendering his son's first policy.

"He felt so guilty, remorseful and terrible about that. He kept saying that he acted as if he was mad."

A participant at the forum, retiree Lau Leng Hoe, 63, told TNP she could empathise with Peter's experience, as she herself cashed out "quite a few" of her own insurance policies to fund her habit about 30 years ago.

Said the former regular patron of cruise ships: "I knew the money you get back is very little because the policy had not reached the maturity date. But at that time, I didn't care.

"I just wanted to gamble."

Thankfully, she also managed to bring her gambling habit under control.

She now even volunteers at the One Hope Centre, a voluntary welfare organisation which helps people who are facing problems as a result of gambling.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

Don't go through it alone

Don't go through it alone

Problem gambling, if not treated, invariably leads to an impact on family members, and strained relationships may result due to the trust being broken, Dr Lui Yit Shiang, Psychological Medicine Registrar at Changi General Hospital, told YourHealth.

Often help is extended by the family of the gambler to 'protect' the person, such as financially bailing them out, but it only serves to encourage the bad habit and create unhappiness all around, he warned.

Many families have trouble coping and eventally burnout.

Children get angry and depressed as a result of negligence, and may start to act out in order to gain attention.

"Most families forgot that it's the illness, and not the person they were dealing with, and the anger ought be redirected.," Dr Lui added.

The best solution is to seek the help of professionals.

Dr Lui said it is important for a problem gambler to work with a multi-disciplinary team of psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and many other professionals, as it is an intensive treatment involving not only medication, but also managing social aspects and therapy.

It is also essential to rope in the support of family members, as they will be able to learn more about addiction and understand that the recovery is a long process.

In a note of encouragement, Dr Lui said that many-a-time, patients come forward to seek treatment after receiving encouragement from their families.

Helplines

Helplines

If you suspect your loved ones are suffering from a gambling addiction, the first step is to find out more and be prepared to face it with your loved ones, Dr Lui advised.

Some avenues of help available include the National Council on Problem Gambling 24-hour helpline and Family Service Centres like Tanjong Pagar, where family members can walk in to learn more.

Addicts can also set up an appointment with clinics specialising in addiction, run by the National Addiction Management Service and Changi General Hospital (CGH) Psychological Medicine.

CGH offers treatment in the form of medication, psychological therapy (talking therapies), and managing social aspects such as employment, reparative work with loved ones, debt repayment and many more.

One thing to note is that psychiatric assessment is important to rule out co-existing psychiatric illnesses.

Medications may be used for antidepressants, mood-stabilisers or even to chemically block out the pleasure gained by gambling.

However, far more important in the management of pathological gambling is prevention.

Hence, screening is being introduced in primary care settings - such as GPs, polyclinics, hospitals and religious group gatherings - for brief intervention efforts to occur.

Refusing help

Refusing help

It is common for the addict to go through a period of denial. If so, it is best to force such addicts to seek help against their intention.

However, once a connection is made, healthcare professionals have their means to build rapport and eventually make a breakthrough with the addict, he said.

Helplines

Helplines National Problem Gambling Helpline: 1800-6668668

Credit Counselling Singapore: 1800-2255227

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-2214444

Project X Ah Long: 1800-9245664

National Addictions Management Service (Nams): nams@imh.com.sg

The Problem Gambling Forum 2012, held last Saturday, aims to educate the public on the symptoms of problem gambling and how to step out of its shadow.

The session is organised by Nams, part of the Institute of Mental Health.