Get professional help, says gambler

SINGAPORE - Mr H. L. Lee started gambling at age seven, when he would fill in for older family members at weekly mahjong games.

While in national service, he began playing mahjong for money with his buddies, and buying 4D and Toto.

By 24, he had progressed to horse racing and football betting at least two or three times a week.

He was a fresh accountancy graduate in his first job, but would blow up to $2,000 of his $2,500 salary on bets.

From gambling only on weekends, he progressed to gambling a few times a week, and finally, every day.

Once, in 2006, he won $50,000 in a weekend at an online casino. But by 2010, he had accumulated losses of $1.8 million.

By then, he was married with a young daughter, and had begun borrowing via credit cards, loan sharks and licensed moneylenders.

His wife and parents, who knew of his problem, bailed him out more than once, including helping him clear $200,000 in debts in 2003. He promised to change, but soon went back to his old ways.

"I thought it was a luck problem, not a gambling problem," said Mr Lee, now 43.

Then in 2010, he racked up debts of $600,000 in a mere six months, and was paying $4,500 just as interest every week.

His long-suffering wife, who had helped pay off his earlier debts, finally walked out with their young daughter.

Knowing that the only way to get his family back was by seeking professional help, he turned to the Institute of Mental Health.

Regular counselling and group therapy have helped, and he is on the road to recovery. He has learnt how to deal with loan sharks and how to focus his energy on a new passion - exercise - and he has gained from sharing sessions with his "band of brothers" - other recovering addicts.

His message for others hooked on gambling? Get professional help.

"Don't try to quit on your own. I tried and failed seven times."

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