Green light for online betting: Social workers warn of dangers

A posed photo of a man looking at the Singapore Pools website on a tablet.
A posed photo of a man looking at the Singapore Pools website on a tablet. PHOTO: ST FILE

Tech-savvy young people at risk despite upcoming awareness education drive

Allowing punters to legally bet online may lead to more problem gambling - especially among tech-savvy youth, caution social workers and psychiatrists.

To counter this possible trend, the government-appointed National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) will be going to schools, cinemas and digital media to reach out to young people.

For instance, it will hold cyberwellness roadshows and talks in schools. It will also be screening a video aimed at youth on how to spot signs of problem gambling in their friends and help them.

Previously launched during June's European Championship, the clip will now also be shown in cinemas, on cable television and disseminated through digital media in the coming months.

The efforts are a pre-emptive strike to target youth who have been identified as a segment that may be particularly vulnerable to online gambling.

This comes after the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday that it will exempt Singapore-based lottery operators Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club from laws that curb online betting.

 

Singapore Pools and Turf Club will start their online betting services on Oct 25 and Nov 15 respectively.

Given Singapore's high usage of smart devices - smartphone penetration was 85 per cent in 2014, the highest globally - and the convenience of online betting, observers warn that more people are likely to try their hand at online gambling.

This would in turn increase the risk of gambling-related problems such as addiction, said Mr Chong Ee Jay, a manager with non-profit Touch Community Services.

In particular, young people may be drawn into social gambling, as being able to place bets online "circumvents the traditional barrier and stigma of betting over the counter", he added.

Mr Billy Lee, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services (BGSS), said "new gamblers" could be drawn in by the sheer accessibility of these new betting products.

He added that young gamblers - aged 20 to 35 - who do not have responsibilities and are educated with good careers are particularly at risk since they might think they "have the resources to gamble".

But trouble happens when they get hooked, said Mr Lee, adding that BGSS recently started a support group for this group.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development said: "We need to educate our youth to recognise the dangers of online gambling addiction from young."

Dr Thomas Lee, consultant psychiatrist at The Resilienz Clinic, noted that the social safeguards the two operators must impose may ensure that individuals gamble within their means.

But, he added: "No safeguard is entirely foolproof... ultimately, gamblers should take personal responsibility in controlling their gambling behaviour."

Education, families and the community still play a key role in preventing problem gambling, social workers said.

Families should be made aware of the potential dangers of easy access to gambling so they can seek help if they know of family members struggling with addiction, said Mr Chong.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said she expects more social problems to crop up.

"Let's not kid ourselves with responsible-gambling messages. If such messaging can stop someone from doing what they want, then we would have eradicated cigarette smoking, isn't it?"

Meanwhile, a petition to stop the legalisation of online gambling here has garnered more than 12,000 signatures as of yesterday.

Mr Abraham Yeo, 36, a media technologist who started the petition, said he had once tried to help someone apply for a family exclusion order. However, it involved filling up forms, and undergoing interviews both by phone and in person - an "extremely draining" process.

He said: "The petition may not change the Government's mind, but we want to at least take a stand against this."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Green light for online betting: Social workers warn of dangers'. Print Edition | Subscribe