Hooked, gambler racked up debt of $54,000
One reason S'pore Turf Club and S'pore Pools were given the green light to start online betting is that illegal sites offer little protection. One punter found this out the hard way
On the surface, he was a working professional like many others, making an honest living at a big company.
But in his mind, it was a constant game of numbers and figuring out how to go about his online football betting to recoup his losses.
By the time Michael (not his real name) approached Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) for help in 2009, he already had a $54,000 debt to his name.
Now in his late 30s, he told The New Paper: "There was always this niggling thing at the back of my mind, that I have to guess the correct thing (to bet on) for the next day.
"I told myself if I made more correct choices, somehow this problem would die down. But it didn't."
His gambling habit started off with an innocent introduction to an online football betting site. Such sites are hosted offshore and are accessible to Singaporeans, although using them is illegal.
Then a fresh graduate working in a big company, he neither questioned the site's legality nor thought he would be hooked.
"Some colleagues asked if I would be interested to join in to play all these things using credit. You don't need to put in money. (See report on right.)
"I know gambling is no good. But when you're young and bored, you just give it a try and see," he said.
The convenience of placing bets surprised him.
"You don't even have to go to the physical outlets to place your bets. It was convenient to continue playing.
"When you win, you feel happy. When you lose, you feel a bit angry but tell yourself 'Never mind, there's always another day to make up for it'," Michael said.
Lady luck was on his side for the first eight to 10 months, he said.
When he started losing, he became obsessed with putting in more money in his bets to recover his losses.
But later, as his addiction worsened, his credit cards facilitated his online gambling.
At one point, Michael owned seven to eight credit cards.
Trapped in a vicious cycle of gambling, Michael kept telling himself that everything would be okay.
"When I couldn't afford to pay for my losses with my salary, I told myself again, 'Never mind, you still have your credit cards'," he said.
He depended on credit lines to sustain his gambling habits.
"If I win, I repay the amount I used (on credit lines), and there is no issue. I started using more credit lines, but I was unable to put back at least ¾ of what I borrowed," he said.
By then he was married, but he kept his debt from his wife.
He was able to keep up with basic expenses with his monthly salary, but not his debt.
The last straw came in 2009, when he evaluated his life and finally saw how his gambling addiction had led him on a downward spiral.
He was saddled with a $54,000 debt - about $45,000 from gambling losses, and the rest was interest accrued.
He decided to approach CCS, which was recommended by a friend in a similar predicament.
Michael embarked on a six-year debt management plan and finally cleared the last of his debt last year.
He said: "Life is now different. I can spend the money all on my family, my children. I pay for things with my salary and put a portion of it as savings.
"It's much more peaceful, nobody will call to bother me about debts."
TNP PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
Foreign sites offer betting in Sing dollar
It's just three simple steps: Register for an account, transfer your funds and you are ready to start.
Despite the Remote Gambling Act, there are still many sites that offer online betting services in Singapore dollars.
Rajah & Tann lawyer Lau Kok Keng, who specialises in sports and gaming law, told The New Paper: "Under Singapore law, any online betting website that is not exempted from the provisions of the Remote Gambling Act is considered illegal.
"This is even if the online betting website is licensed by a regulator in a foreign jurisdiction, like the Philippines, the UK, Aldernay or Gibraltar."
For any event on which bets are offered, the odds are set and fixed at the time the bet is placed.
Therefore, for every bet outcome, the punter knows what the payout will be for every dollar he places on his bet, Mr Lau said.
The odds are decided by specialist odds setters, based on various factors which may go towards the likelihood of a particular bet event materialising. They may change from the time bets are open to the time bets are closed, he said.
A search on the Internet showed that several sites based outside of Singapore offer betting services in the Singapore currency.
They also offer e-wallet solution providers that allow punters to link their credit card accounts as a funding and expenditure source for bets.
The e-wallet solves the problem of being unable to transfer money directly from your Singapore-based bank or credit card to your betting account.
But Mr Lau emphasised that the only sites that will be legal in the near future are the ones that Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club are setting up.
What will be allowed online
Punters will be able to buy 4D, Toto, and place football and motor-racing bets with Singapore Pools come Oct 25, and horse-raising bets with Singapore Turf Club from Nov 15.
The two operators were assessed by the Ministry of Home Affairs to be suitable to run online betting services.
The National Problem Gambling helpline
Blessed Grace Social Services
One Hope Centre