When Gambling Goes Too Far

BY WE CARE Community Services

22 March 2021  |   5 min read

In the 1990s, local actor Mark Lee was riding a winning streak like he had never seen. Not only did his role in the popular television show Comedy Nite catapult him into the limelight as Singapore’s iconic funnyman, he also ran successful side businesses that fetched tidy profits.

Then Mark started betting on football, lottery and horse races. His early wins got him hooked on gambling and soon the thrill from gambling gave him a bigger high than winning did. Even when the losses stacked up, he kept coming back, determined to recoup his losses.

When Mark’s businesses floundered from neglect and his secretive gambling strained family relationships, gambling provided him temporary relief and an escape from reality.

Every day Mark would ride a rollercoaster of emotions depending on whether he had won or lost a bet. The more he lost, the guiltier he felt, and the more he would gamble and avoid his loved ones and his responsibilities.

Today Mark is a changed man who has quit gambling. He shares openly about his past struggles to give hope and strength to those trying to overcome their gambling addiction.

Do you know someone like Mark? If your family member or friend has a gambling problem, is there something you can say or do to help?

How to recognise if someone has a gambling addiction

Early detection and treatment increases the likelihood of overcoming gambling addiction. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if a family member or friend has a gambling problem:

  • Are they often short on cash or frequently borrow money despite earning a regular salary?
  • Do they frequently experience disputes with family members and friends?
  • Do they seem distracted and not totally ‘there’ when you are together?
  • Do they frequently cancel appointments or are often uncontactable for days?
  • Are they neglecting their family or work responsibilities?
  • Are they showing a decline in personal hygiene and grooming?

Financial and emotional factors such as work stress or losing a loved one can also increase the drive to gamble.

How to help someone with a gambling addiction

Start by expressing your concern and willingness to help. Avoid passing judgment even though you may feel angry or alarmed at the discovery that a loved one has a gambling problem. Recommend useful resources and information to steer them towards recovery.

Admitting to a gambling disorder takes tremendous strength and courage. Show compassion and concern, and a loved one struggling with the condition will likely respond positively to advice.

Show compassion and concern, and a loved one struggling with the condition will likely respond positively to advice.

Help for a problem gambler typically takes two forms:

1. Financial

It is typical for a problem gambler to have borrowed money to sustain their addiction. For help with debt management, individuals can approach Credit Counselling Service (CCS) to work out a repayment plan to pay off their debts at a rate they can afford.

2. Addiction

Persons with gambling addiction should speak with a trained professional who can understand, diagnose, and treat the addiction. A psychologist or counsellor can also help them confront and resolve underlying issues like family stress or low self-esteem. If a loved one is reluctant to seek help because of feelings of shame and pride, wait until he or she is in a relaxed mood before broaching the topic. Reassure them that medical and counselling conversations are private and confidential.

Cost of treatment can be a barrier deterring help-seeking behaviour by gambling addicts who are usually deep in debt. The 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study found that three out of four who participated in the study did not seek treatment for their mental health conditions or addictions due to concerns about the high cost of treatment. Community resources like WE CARE charge subsidised rates as they cater to middle- and lower-income groups.

Support for family and friends

The impact of gambling addiction on families is substantial and far-reaching. Family members who need advice on how to better support their loved ones recovering from addiction can work with a counsellor or join a support group such as the Family & Friends Support Group run by WE CARE Community Services.

Psychotherapist Tham Yuen Han, the facilitator for the Family & Friends Support Group, explains that the group educates and counsels family members about the impact of gambling on relationships, how to talk to children about it, and how to care for themselves mentally, emotionally and physically.

Mark was lucky to have the support and help from family and friends to kick his gambling habit and turn his life around. Don’t wait until a loved one or friend scrapes rock bottom before reaching out.

  • WE CARE Community Services – Tel: 3165 8017 or email
  • National Council for Problem Gambling – Tel: 1800-666-8668 or email
  • National Addictions Management Service – Tel: 6389 2000 or email

The contributor is a Communications and Relations Manager at WE CARE Community Services Ltd.

Screenshot from National Council on Problem Gambling ad – “Know The ‘Stages’ of Gambling Addiction”