Many more people are calling the National Problem Gambling Helpline, underlining increased public awareness and willingness to seek help, say counsellors.
The 24-hour service has been handling about 21,000 calls annually for the past three years, a fourfold increase from 2009 when it was first set up.
Counsellors say the rising volume of helpline calls shows that those affected by gambling are more willing to seek help as the stigma of gambling addiction wanes. It also reflects greater awareness of avenues of help after public education campaigns.
“Gambling is often a hidden addiction which becomes known only when things get serious,” said Ms Tham Yuen Han, executive director of We Care Community Services which helps gambling addicts. It also treats other types of addictions.
“So it is a good sign that people are trying to get more information on where to go or what to do if they need help,” she added.
Its centre has started offering support group sessions daily, instead of just five days a week, as more gamblers go to it for support.
Slightly more than half of the helpline callers are Singaporeans.
While 60 per cent of the calls sought general information on gambling-related issues, the proportion of calls from gamblers or family members requesting help has risen to 40 per cent over the past two years, from 30 per cent between 2009 and 2011.
These gamblers or their family members and friends would call in to ask about or apply for casino exclusion orders.
The National Council on Problem Gambling said the gamblers who call tend to require counselling over the phone or ask to be referred for counselling.
Latest figures from the council show that the number of people barred from Singapore’s two casinos has reached a high of 200,542 as of March.
Since June last year, 928 people have been issued visit limits, the latest tool in the Government’s arsenal of safeguards against gambling addiction. This caps the number of times financially vulnerable gamblers can enter the casinos each month. A third of these visit limits were voluntarily sought.
Counsellors foresee a rise in helpline calls after last week’s announcement that people can also apply for self-exclusion from non-casino gambling venues or remote betting services by Singapore Pools or Singapore Turf Club.
“People will call to find out more because online gambling or jackpot machines at clubs are popular and this is worrying,” said Mr Billy Lee, counsellor at Gamblers Recovery Centre. The centre also runs a helpline which gets about 30 calls a month.
“The helpline is the first step for us to connect with gamblers, and subsequently many are open to coming for counselling or support group sessions,” he added.
A reformed gambler, who wanted to be known only as Jack, said helplines work as they offer an easy and non-intimidating platform for people to express their distress.
He used to frequent overseas casinos during business trips and gambled away some $2 million over the years. But he is a changed person after calling Gamblers Recovery Centre’s helpline last year, and now joins the support groups to encourage others who face similar situations.
Said the 53-year-old businessman: “I was quite desperate then and it was easy for me to pick up the phone and dial because I find it more comfortable talking to someone on the phone first to see how he can help me.”
This article was published on May 14 in The Straits Times.
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