SINGAPORE - Hardcore gamblers will not bet on finding many more of their own kind now.
That is because their proportion has plunged to just 0.7 per cent of the population, a national gambling survey carried out every three years has found. This translates to about 20,000 people among those aged 18 and above.
This is the lowest figure since the first poll in 2005, when the figure was 4.1 per cent. It fell to 2.9 per cent in 2008 and further to 2.6 per cent in 2011.
On the other hand, those who are hooked are starting younger and gambling harder than before, the survey found.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) released the findings of the poll of 3,000 Singapore residents aged 18 and above yesterday.
Some counsellors found the drop in the number of hardcore gamblers surprising as more people are seeking help on the ground.
"It could mean people know where to go for help now and the problem is being nipped in the bud," said Ms Jolene Ong, who chairs The Silver Lining, which runs gambling rehabilitation schemes.
Social safeguards that deter citizens from frequenting the casinos may also have played a part in bringing the number down.
On the other hand, the survey may not have captured those who gamble illegally, said Ms Deborah Queck, manager of Blessed Grace Social Services, which runs a recovery centre for gamblers.
The NCPG said gambling addicts remain a concern as more are gambling more frequently and starting to gamble at a younger age.
Among the more severely addicted, 83 per cent gambled at least once a week, up from 68 per cent in 2011. Most report strained family relations as a result.
"They seem to be gambling with greater intensity and less self-control, harming themselves and their families," noted Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, saying the NCPG will focus on this group.
As nearly one in six gambling addicts picks up the habit before the age of 18, the NCPG will expand its youth outreach programmes to teach young people to prevent, identify and deal with gambling addiction.
A 30-year-old engineer said counselling is helping him to beat his 10-year online betting habit, which saw him rack up $400,000 in debt.
He said: "I lost friends and broke up with my girlfriend. Seeking help really changed things."