EVEN as players battle over the ball at the World Cup, the authorities and help groups are going all out to tackle illegal betting and impulsive gambling.
Aware that gambling tends to intensify during events such as major football tournaments, agencies are launching large-scale public education campaigns and holding more support group sessions for gamblers.
The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), for example, invited people to design posters warning of the penalties of betting illegally during the World Cup. The winning design will be placed at HDB noticeboards and coffee shops islandwide soon.
Advertisements that remind viewers that they could be fined or jailed for illegal betting will also be played during the commercial breaks of the World Cup broadcast on mioTV throughout the month-long competition.
An NCPC spokesman said: "We are targeting the youth and working adults who may be betting with illegal bookmakers through online websites and smart devices such as phones or laptops."
In 2010, when South Africa hosted the World Cup, 1,009 people were arrested for illegal gambling and betting activities here, the police told The Straits Times. Last year, there were 640.
The NCPC spokesman said some may think an illegal bet is "harmless as it hurts no one". He added: "However, by betting with illegal bookmakers, punters are financing transnational criminal syndicates which may be involved in other criminal activities."
Police in Europe and football's world body Fifa have called Singapore the heart of a global syndicate that has rigged more than 150 football matches. And illegal betting keeps the match-fixing syndicates going.
Besides the NCPC, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) is also running television, radio and newspaper advertisements, in addition to ads at cinemas, bus stops and coffee shops, during the World Cup to draw attention to the potential social fallout of problem gambling.
One of the ads, which features a frowning young boy remarking to another that he hopes Germany wins because his dad has bet all his savings on them, has generated some online buzz.
"Those who engage in soccer betting transcend different age groups and citizen profiles because soccer has a wide appeal," said an NCPG spokesman.
Welfare groups say that while strong prevention messages need to go out during this time, it is also important to offer more support or avenues for gamblers to seek help should their numbers spike.
"Every time the World Cup rolls around, we see a 30 per cent spike in gamblers coming for help in the next one or two months, so we will have more staff around for them," said Mr Wong Kee Soon, chairman of Adullum Life Counselling.
During the last World Cup, a Primary 5 boy sought its help after he lost $3,000, Mr Wong said. The boy was watching the matches at a coffee shop when bookies approached him to make bets.
Meanwhile, We Care Community Services has gone into "extra time" to help people battle temptation: It has added daily one-hour meetings after office hours to its weekly support group sessions.
At One Hope Centre, newsletters with tips for gamblers on how to resist temptation are given out at support sessions attended by 70 people each time.
Said Mr Dick Lum, its executive director: "The atmosphere created during this time is one where people are cheering them on and they think they have luck when they win a few games, but that is actually the beginning of their downfall."