Jackpot addict: I lost $10k in a day

People playing at a jackpot room at Downtown East.
People playing at a jackpot room at Downtown East.PHOTO: ST FILE

Jackpot machines thrilled her like nothing else could.

Their sound effects raised her heart rate and made it feel more exciting than gambling at tables.

Madam Loh (not her real name) especially loved the ka-ching of falling electronic coins. But landing in a $200,000 debt and having to sell her four-room flat motivated her to join the self-exclusion list and stop gambling four years ago.

She staved off the addiction for eight months, until she was bored at a Downtown East chalet, run by NTUC Club, and walked into a jackpot room. "That night reignited my demons. It's hard to control the urge to gamble," said the 58-year-old office administrator in Mandarin.

She then started hitting Safra jackpot rooms two to three times a week. And her losses there were no less than at the casino.

 

IN A GAMBLING BUBBLE

When you're in the room, you feel no horror, fear or remorse. You just keep betting, hoping to recover your losses. It's only when you walk out of the place that it hits you and you end up crying.

MADAM LOH

She even took bank loans and borrowed from her family and friends to feed her habit.

The fruit machines take in $10, $50 and $100 notes and, with itchy fingers, the credits do not last long.

Some machines price each bet at just two cents, but there is a minimum number of lines that punters have to bet on.

So each tap of the finger on the button can cost anything from 50 cents to $30 or $40.

Madam Loh said her bets depended on her mood. Sometimes she would get greedy and make big bets, hoping to get bigger winnings. "Once, I went in the morning, left for lunch, then headed back to the jackpot room again. I lost $6,000 in the morning and another $4,000 at night," she said.

She sometimes visited two outlets in a day, for a change of luck.

As of 2015, there were 84 private lottery clubs that are licensed to have jackpot machines here.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has a self-exclusion scheme for individuals to shut themselves out of online betting outlets and 24 of these jackpot rooms. However, it is not a blanket exclusion across all 24 outlets.

This list also does not cross-reference the self-exclusion one for the casinos, thus gamblers such as Madam Loh can fall through the cracks, quitting the casinos only to fuel their addiction at clubs.

In Madam Loh's case, hope was a dangerous thing. She said: "When you're in the room, you feel no horror, fear or remorse. You just keep betting, hoping to recover your losses. It's only when you walk out of the place that it hits you and you end up crying."

She was mired in jackpot rooms until last year when friends intervened and took her to Blessed Grace Social Services for help.

The former jackpot machine addict now has this to say: "At least the casinos have a $100 levy, but the jackpot rooms are so easy to get into."

These private clubs are "evil".

"The temptation is so big. I see housewives going to play until 4pm or 5pm before they return home to cook. Some say they've lost their grocery money.

"There shouldn't be so many of these places. The Government should slowly close them down. Out of 10 bets, you'll lose nine times. The machines' odds are set, it is very stupid to go and 'donate' your money to them," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'Jackpot addict: I lost $10k in a day'. Print Edition | Subscribe