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Saturday September 22, 2012

Betting against the odds – a loser’s game

FOR some people, betting is fun, and gambling can be exciting. But both can lead to serious problems that continue long after the thrill is gone. When money troubles start, we invariably experience stress in our relationships with loved ones and families. Our ability to function effectively at work will be seriously affected.

According to a recent PricewaterhouseCooper's Global Gaming Outlook report entitled The casino and online gaming market to 2015, it was projected that the global casino gaming revenue across the United States, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Canada will grow at 9.2% compound annual rate during the next five years, rising from US$117.6bil in 2010 to US$182.8bil in 2015.

This annual point-of-view study focuses on current and future trends and revenue growth in both the casino gaming industry and online gaming sector.

Asia Pacific which paused for breath in 2009, rising by only 7.1% leapt forward dramatically in 2010. Spending in that one year alone rose by a stunning 49.7%, driven by new capacity in Macau and Singapore, with the latter's emergence as a major new resort destination. Meanwhile, the casino gaming market in Malaysia is expected to pass the US$1bil level in 2014.

In the same report, online gaming and betting also pose a great concern as they are available worldwide, made up of fragmented pockets of legal and illegal spending, often outside of normal jurisdictions or monitoring capabilities. Recent growth has been driven by hooks into social network sites and the ease of remote access with a natural extension to users of digital and mobile technology. However, the size of the market is difficult to measure accurately.

With these statistics, one wonders what the impact of such robust gambling will have on society and individuals.

True enough, there is a lot of news in the media about people getting into financial problems, ranging from casino gambling to football or sports car betting, Internet gambling, computer gaming, horse racing and lottery tickets. In addition, the increasing trend of youth and young adults indulging in online games, video gaming and social media gambling is creating worries among parents.

Parents have to bail out their teenage (or even adult) children by using their retirement savings or selling their properties and assets to settle their gambling debts.

Facing the risk of losing everything and being dragged into the deep financial mess can eventually break up a family.

The situation becomes even more severe when there is disharmony in the community and neighbourhood due to gamblers turning to criminal activities like stealing, cheating or other illegal activities (selling drugs or pirated goods) just to get money to support their gambling.

Sometimes, gamblers end up seeking financial help from illegal moneylenders to cover losses. Or are enticed by paid commissions or incentives they get for introducing others including their friends and family into gambling.

Last year, Malaysia's Gambling Rehabilitation Centre (GRC) joined forces with MCA Youth to launch a Gambler at home: What to do campaign aimed at helping gamblers. In a press interview, GRC secretary-general Karline Chew mentions that gambling is a national problem. Contrary to popular belief, it does not only affect the Chinese, but other races as well. It also affects the entire gambler's family. “If you are a gambler, your children are four times more likely to become gamblers,” she says. The campaign was born out of a worrying increase in the frequency of “Singapore gambling escapades” taken by Malaysian housewives, especially those from neighbouring Johor.

Problem gambling

Just about any feeling, situation, behaviour or belief can trigger an impulse to gamble. Peer influence or pressure among friends in football betting circles can trigger gambling behaviour. Even cultural practices such as playing mahjong or cards during a festive season or playing online computer games (at home or at Internet cafs) to de-stress can lead to compulsive gambling.

If, by chance, a person makes some money, the person starts thinking how easy it is and soon falls into the gambling trap. When it becomes extreme, gamblers can't control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves and their family.

Gambling is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they're up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed, even when they know the odds are against them.

Problem gambling is sometimes referred to as the “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Red flags appear only when a person becomes more and more desperate to recoup his/her financial losses, as the person contemplates the last dollar in his/her wallet or purse.

The belief that more gambling is the only way to win back lost money is a dangerous thought indeed because it does nothing but put the person further and further into the gambling hole. The following changes in a person's behaviour can sometimes be due to the stresses of gambling:

Becoming defensive when asked for money;

Telling lies, pleading, manipulating and using threats to coerce money from people;

Becoming secretive over money and finances, showing a desire to control household finances;

Unwarranted withdrawals of money from bank accounts or selling personal items, pawning jewellery and expensive watches; and

Becoming heavily in debt via credit cards and personal loans. To some extent, not answering calls can be a sign of avoiding calls from banks or moneylenders.

Help for gamblers?

Strange but true, experts explain that bailing out the gambler by paying off the financial debt will not help a gambler to “kick the habit”. Instead, it only leads him or her to more problems. Most of the time, a spouse, other family members and friends become the “victims”, falling into the trap of helping the gambler. As tough as it may be, helping a gambler quit involves not giving money or settling his or her debts.

The decision to quit comes from the gambler. He or she will need the emotional support of family and friends to stop gambling. Love, forgiveness and understanding of the struggle are more important. Instead of getting angry, preaching, lecturing, scolding, blaming and accusing the gambler, one must enable the gambler to reach a personal decision to return to a life without gambling.

While it is extremely hard to cope with a loved one's gambling problem, affected family members and friends must “try to understand how the gambler thinks and the reasons that got him or her into the problem”. The best thing to do is to get the gambler to see a counsellor and enrol into a gambling treatment programme in a rehabilitation centre.

As Karline Chew summed up in her interview, “We have to make them (the gamblers) realise that they are the problem and, at the same time, they are the solution. In our rehabilitation programme, we ask probing questions to make them see the light. Once they realise they have a problem, the road to change begins.”

Carol Yip, founder of Abacus For Money, believes that if people understand their money mindset, behaviours and money psychology they can be financially happy and successful. She actively promotes financial literacy and intelligence within families and for women, youths and retirees. Email her at CarolYip@AbacusForMoney.com

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