Licking the gambling problem

Those who play jackpot machines tend to be "escape gamblers" seeking to avoid problems in real life.
Those who play jackpot machines tend to be "escape gamblers" seeking to avoid problems in real life. PHOTO: ST FILE

Jackpot gambling creates a unique set of problems for addicts, as they are hooked on the games and seem to be in a trance-like state when playing, said experts.

Some jackpot machine addicts may also find themselves skipping meals, and having an illusion of control over the machine.

As those who play jackpot machines tend to be "escape gamblers" seeking to avoid problems in real life, they may also require more targeted forms of treatment focused on helping them cope with negative emotions, said National Addictions Management Service (Nams) senior psychologist Lawrence Tan.

About 14 per cent of gamblers seen by Nams engage in jackpot machine gambling, and nine out of 10 are men aged around 40 on average.

While the problem gambling rate dropped from 2.6 per cent in 2011 to 0.7 per cent in 2014, according to a gambling survey carried out every three years by the National Council on Problem Gambling, analysis from consultancy H2 Gambling Capital also found that gamblers in Singapore suffered the second-greatest losses per capita in the world last year, after Australia.

A report in The Economist on this data showed that gamblers here lost US$5.9 billion (S$8 billion) last year.

  • 9 in 10

    Proportion of gamblers engaging in jackpot machine gambling who are men aged around 40 on average.

The general treatment for gamblers targets their distorted beliefs, aiming to modify them to more rational ones, said Mr Tan. For example, one of Nams' clients, a woman in her 50s, could not stop gambling on jackpot machines, and believed she could predict eventual outcomes by spotting patterns in the game.

 

Near-misses on the machine also egged her on, and she lost about $40,000 over three to four years.

Addiction specialist Thomas Lee said those addicted to jackpot machines are drawn to the visual and auditory stimulation, with exciting music and images on the screen.

"We need to address why a person is attracted to jackpot machines, find out what triggers a person to play on the machine, and do some cognitive challenges or therapy to identify the false beliefs that a jackpot player has," he said of treatment methods. "We need to challenge these thoughts, so the person may not be hooked as readily as before."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Licking the gambling problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe