ONE million ringgit - that’s the huge price 18-year-old James* had to pay for rolling the virtual dice on his future in online casinos.
Going down the slippery slope of gambling, James was also hooked on e-sports betting, causing him to lose the total sum while being hounded by loan sharks.
Another youth, Sam*, a 21-year-old student, also found himself at the mercy of such money lenders to pay off his debts, when he lost RM500,000 to online gambling.
To keep playing the games, both boys turned to loan sharks who lent big sums of money at one go, ranging from RM40,000 to RM100,000.
“They created an excuse to get money from their parents to pay off the loan by telling them they need money to start a shoe business, ” Gamblers Rehab Centre (GRC) chief operating officer Bryant Leong tells Sunday Star, in recalling the cases.
But in the end, the loan sharks went after their parents to collect the debts.
Both youths have since received assistance from the centre to quit the bad habit.
“It’s worrying but gamblers who seek help from us are getting younger.
“Most of them are involved in e-sports betting through websites for games like football, video games and online casinos, ” Leong says.
He says the GRC is also expecting more people to come forward for help due to the economic uncertainty surrounding the current movement control order.
From May 2020 to May 2021, a total of 112 cases were received by the GRC through its six branches nationwide.
“Of the 112 cases, our two centres in the Klang Valley (Kuala Lumpur and Klang) received 57 new cases.
“From the 57 cases, 17 were gamblers aged between 18 and 28, ” he reveals.
Recently, a Malaysian influencer and YouTuber, Yang Bao Bei, 27, publicly confessed in a video to losing all her money in gambling to fund her lifestyle, causing her to borrow money from loan sharks.
Yang, better known as YBB to her 500,000-odd followers, could not settle the payments and resorted to selling her possessions such as luxury bags online to earn some cash.
She later tried to sell the same luxury bags to different buyers to collect the deposits but the scam was exposed by netizens. Yang has since repented and promised to give refunds to the buyers.
Commenting on Yang’s case, Leong says the silver lining is that her confession created the opportunity for more people to be aware of the real dangers of gambling.
From 2016 to 2020, the GRC centres in Kuala Lumpur and Klang have helped a total of 613 people, aged between 14 and 75.
Those who seek assistance come from all kinds of backgrounds, ranging from students, teachers, e-hailing drivers to bankers, accountants, lawyers, businessmen and pilots.
And now with the nationwide MCO 3.0, Leong foresees more people to come forward to them.
“Gamblers are always out there, but nowadays, they get to gamble online.
“I’d like to remind the public that gambling is not the way out of problems.
“Neither should it be for entertainment, nor a chance or opportunity to get rich quick.
“It is a trap that can land you in trouble, ” he highlights.
He also stresses that people should not underestimate the effects of gambling addiction as it can lead to huge losses, even destroying lives.
Leong says the centre recruits ex-gamblers as counsellors and they have physical counselling courses in Kuala Lumpur, Klang, Penang, Johor Baru as well as stay-in centres in Seremban and Melaka.
“Our centres guide problematic gamblers to solve their financial issues, and remind them that their purpose of life does not solely revolve around finances, but focus should be given to their family.
“Due to the MCO, we have provided weekly online courses since March last year. Physical classes will continue after the MCO, ” he explains.
While the GRC has a high success rate of around 70% in rehabilitating gamblers, there are cases where some fall off the wagon.
“There are relapse cases. Normally, if a person stops gambling for two years, it is considered a successful case.
“This means 70% of cases we received have fully quit gambling for more than two years, ” he says.
Leong says many reasons cause a gambler to relapse but financial stress is the most harmful factor.
“Most, if not all the cases we receive have a similar story – the gamblers approach us because they are saddled with debts that they cannot deal with.
“Gamblers tend to approach us not during the first time they lose, but normally after family members have helped to pay off debts for about three or four times, ” he relates.
Family members of the gamblers always hope their loved ones will stop after the debts are settled.
But unfortunately, this doesn’t always help a problematic gambler to recover.
“Gamblers always relapse after getting help from family or friends.
“This is because their loved ones have settled the debts but not the addiction.
“We encourage family members not to pay off the gambler’s debts. Let the gamblers face their debts themselves.
“By dealing with their debts, they will learn to be responsible, ” Leong advises.
Using the right way to help a problematic gambler is very important, he adds.
For those who wish to seek help, call the Gamblers Rehab Centre Malaysia helpline at 013-336 2933.
*Not their real names