Spike in number of gamblers banning themselves from Singapore Pools online in 2022

A total of 8,731 self-exclusions were made on Singapore Pools online accounts in 2022. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Almost double the number of gamblers banned themselves from Singapore Pools online in 2022 compared with the previous year, in a bid to stop betting on games like football.

A total of 8,731 self-exclusions were made on Singapore Pools online accounts in 2022 – a more than 80 per cent jump from 2021 when there were 4,802. There were 4,011 such exclusions in 2020, and 3,720 in 2019.

The statistics, which were published earlier in March by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), also show a slight increase year on year in the number of people seeking counselling for gambling with the National Addictions Management Service at the Institute of Mental Health and the NCPG’s appointed agencies. The figures exclude other community agencies that offer gambling addiction recovery support.

The self-exclusion allows people to voluntarily ban themselves from opening or maintaining a Singapore Pools account. Those with accounts are required to take a break from gambling activities for at least 12 months.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for the NCPG attributed the increase in self-exclusions to its campaigns that promoted awareness of its website and social safeguards as well as the enhancement of its website and e-services portal in 2022. This made it easier for people to find out more about problem gambling and to apply for self-exclusion.

The spokesman noted that as the economy reopened in 2022 and more people visited gambling venues, the number of calls to the NCPG helpline or webchat increased from 9,806 in 2021 to 10,388 in 2022. But the figure is still lower than the 14,907 calls in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Singapore Pools said the spike is a “positive development” since more people are becoming aware of the potential risks associated with gambling, and are taking steps to limit their own exposure. 

It added that it has stepped up efforts to encourage safer play practices, and has a comprehensive suite of responsible gaming measures to help account holders manage and track their spending.

These include setting deposit and betting limits, providing information about the risks of problem gambling, and offering support and resources for those who need help.

Counsellors whom ST spoke to cited various possible reasons for the spike in self-exclusions. They were divided about whether the 2022 World Cup had a role to play.

Ms Tham Yuen Han, executive director of We Care Community Services, was unsurprised by the jump in self-exclusions in the light of the Singapore Pools recording a total of $9.2 billion in bets on lotteries and sports in the last financial year.

The figure was the largest sum placed on such bets in the past decade, and came as Covid-19 restrictions were being lifted around the world. This resulted in more football matches to place bets on.

The record sum was for the financial year ended in March 2022, before the World Cup in December. But Ms Tham pointed out that such events do not necessarily lead to a spike in gambling addictions.

“For the clients whom we work with who have gambling issues and bet on soccer, the World Cup is not an exception because there’s football year-round to bet on. While it might be advertised a lot here, for the addicts there are tonnes of leagues year-round,” she said.

The caseload for online gambling at We Care doubled from about 20 to just over 50 from 2020 to 2022, Ms Tham said, noting that the counselling at We Care is not mandatory or ordered for its clients, and they seek help voluntarily.

She and other counsellors whom ST spoke to were also quick to point out that the increase in the number of self-exclusions is a good thing.

“It means people have an increased awareness of their risk. It’s also indicative of people taking actions to prevent further losses, and to prevent an escalation of the problem,” said Ms Tham.

Echoing the sentiment, Mr Billy Lee, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services, noted that punters often find it very difficult to ban themselves. While Blessed Grace has seen the number of people seeking counselling from it for online gambling climb slightly from 93 in 2020 to 101 in 2022, the extent of the national spike in self-exclusions came as a surprise to Mr Lee.

But he did notice a higher number of cases of those who had stopped counselling – because they thought they had recovered from their addictions – returning to seek help during the World Cup season at the end of 2022.

“The problem is especially difficult for those who were addicted and were on their way to recovery, and had a relapse,” he said, noting that the accessibility of games, some of which were free to watch at community centres, made it easier for addicted gamblers to relapse.

Dr Danny Ng, clinical director at Renovare, attributed the spike to the economic climate. “Economic uncertainty may also play a part as many more may be fearful of an extended downturn, influencing them not to take risks by gambling,” he said.

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