Gambling addiction: His football bets put wife in psychiatric ward

PHOTO: Gambling addiction: His football bets put wife in psychiatric ward

SINGAPORE - His relentless gambling drove his wife to such despair that she ended up in a psychiatric ward.

He was so addicted that he took his son out of pre-school so that he could pay off his debts.

Gerald (right, not his real name) has lost around $400,000 betting on football matches online for the past 13 years.

The low point came when he saw how tough life was after they had to give up their five-room flat and squeeze into a room, which was all the family could afford to rent.

So he stopped gambling. It has been nine months since he placed his last bet. Having fallen off the wagon so often before, he says he must be strong for the sake of his wife and son.

Still, the going is tough.

Every day, he looks at a mountain of legal letters and bills with regret. All of them - scars of a not-so-distant past - remind him that he is still more than a quarter of a million dollars in debt.

The irony: He's not a football fan and doesn't watch the matches that he bet on.

"I was in it for the money. When I lose, I would bet again because that was the fastest way to recoup my money," said the 30-year-old, who earns about $6,000 a month as a petrochemical technician.

Each time, he would bet between $500 and $2,000 on matches involving teams he had never heard about in the English Premier League and Uefa Champions League.

To fuel his habit, he borrowed from 15 loan sharks. When he could not repay them, they came in waves to splash paint on the corridor of his parents' flat, where he was living at the time.

Said Gerald: "They also chained up the front gates of my parents' and my neighbours' flats, and scribbled messages on the walls to get me to settle my debts.

"My parents had to defend me from angry neighbours, lying that I was a wrong target or a guarantor for someone else. I borrowed from licensed moneylenders to pay off the unlicensed ones."

First bet

He knows of Manchester United Football Club - but only because he won his first bet backing them when he was 17. Back then, he was lured into it by a classmate who was a bookie in his school.

"My family was poor. My father was a drug addict who was in and out of prison, and my mother had several failed businesses. My classmate noticed this and asked if I wanted to bet.

"I won the first few games. When my classmate gave me my winnings of a few hundred dollars, it made me feel good. It also put food on my family's table," he said.

His initial winnings also paid for his dates with his then girlfriend Sarah (not her real name), who is now his wife.

Gerald was hooked, but he soon started losing. He turned to Sarah for help.

Sarah, now 31, said: "I was in polytechnic. I lied to my dad that I needed $3,000 for a course. I felt bad, but I was blinded (by love). "I tolerated his habits because he kept reassuring me that things would get better. But each time he had money problems, he became moody and upset."

Sarah walked out of Gerald more than eight times, all because of his gambling. But they reconciled because of love after a few months apart.

Gerald said: "When she left, I stopped. But when she came back, I started betting again.

"I kept making promises to myself that I would quit. My wife, too, thought that I would quit when we got married."

In May 2010, two months after their marriage, Gerald confessed to Sarah that he was still betting online.

She broke down, and the next day Gerald found her in the bedroom laughing and talking nonsense while holding a library book about addictions.

She was taken to hospital, where she spent a week in the psychiatric ward.

After she recovered, he went back to football betting.

To pay off the debts, Gerald sold his five-room flat and downsized to a three-room resale flat last year. While waiting for the resale flat, he rented a small room.

After paying the downpayment for his three-room flat, he realised the sale proceeds of $130,000 could not clear off his debts of $200,000.

So he used some of the money to gamble, hoping to make more money to pay off the debts.

He didn't.

"I was overwhelmed with guilt every time I saw my wife and newborn son huddled in a cramped room," he said.

For the first time in more than a decade, he stopped betting. He wants to quit gambling for good to be a "good father to my son".

Said Gerald: "Every day I ask myself, 'Why didn't I quit earlier?' Now, I'll pay for this the rest of my life."

Rise in number of problem punters

With the start of the World Cup, hotlines that help gambling addicts will be ringing more frequently, said a National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) spokesman.

"Traditionally, calls to the helpline tend to increase during certain seasons, such as the festive and football seasons.

"We know that gambling tends to intensify during specific seasons, and take this into account in our public education efforts," the spokesman said.

He said problem-gambling cases involving football betting span different age groups and profiles.

While NCPG does not track cases related specifically to football betting, it receives an average of 21,000 calls a year.

Mr Billy Lee, a counsellor at the Gamblers Recovery Centre, noted an increase in the number of people going to the centre because of online football betting.

He warned recovering addicts to resist the temptation to bet during this World Cup.

"If possible, avoid the matches altogether. You may not bet on the first few matches but over time, you may start to feel that your predictions are accurate and try your luck again," he said.

HELPLINES

National Council on Problem Gambling:1800-6-668-668

THK Problem Gambling Recovery Centre:6576-0840

Gamblers Recovery Centre:8428-6377

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin):1800-353-5800

One Hope Centre:6547-1011

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg

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Are you addicted?

The Health Ministry's clinical practice guidelines have proposed at least five easy-to-use screening tools which have been validated overseas. They include the Lie/Bet questionnaire (a two-item tool for doctors who have limited time with patients) and the widely used nine-item tool, called problem gambling severity index, below.

Thinking about the last 12 months...

1. Have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

2. Have you needed to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling of excitement?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

3. When you gambled, did you go back another day to try to win back the money you lost?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

4. Have you borrowed money or sold anything to get money to gamble?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

5. Have you felt that you might have a problem with gambling?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

6. Has gambling caused you any health problems, including stress or anxiety?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

7. Have people criticised your betting or told you that you have a gambling problem, regardless of whether or not you thought it was true?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

8. Has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

9. Have you felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?

Never/Sometimes/Most of the time/Almost always

Calculate your score:

Never = 0Sometimes = 1Most of the time = 2Almost always = 3

Add up to get the total score:

0 = No problem with gambling1 to 2 = Low level of problems with few or no identified negative consequences3 to 7 = Moderate level of problems leading to some negative consequences8 or more = Problem gambling with negative consequences and a possible loss of control

Source: www.problemgambling.ca

Visit the National Addictions Management Service website, www.nams.org.sg, to do the same questionnaire and the score will be tabulated for you.

If you score 1 or above, call these helplines:

National Problem Gambling Helpline 1800-666-8668, available 24 hours a day Moral Problem Gambling Counselling Centre 6593-6489, Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 6pm