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SAGE Talk: Gambling and Huge Debts

Reminiscences of CCS first Chairman. This is the twelfth of a series of articles by Mr Kuo How Nam (founding member and former Chairman of Credit Counselling Singapore). How Nam’s articles are scheduled to be published on first Fridays of the month.

In this article, CCS first Chairman and founding member Kuo How Nam talks about a major cause of credit card debt - gambling.

Through many years of dealing with distressed debtors, the biggest debts owed by individuals invariably turn out to be due to gambling.  It is harder to run up big debts due to lifestyle maintenance or overspending.  With gambling debts however, the amounts owed can be mind-blowing.  As an illustration, the 3 biggest debts owed by gambling coming to CCS have been $1.7 million, $1.1 million and $650K.


Gambling addiction is defined as a pathological gambling disorder.  The gambler is obsessed with gambling most of the time with negative consequences for his finances, relationships, work and physical and mental well-being.  It is very difficult for the gambler to stop gambling.  They will exhaust their personal savings and assets, then resort to b borrowing from family members, friends and banks.  At an extreme case, they will lie, cheat and resort to criminal activities to fund their habits.   Chia Teck Leng holds the record for cheating 4 banks of more than $117 million to feed his gambling addiction, using his position as finance manager at Asia Pacific Brewers, and was sentenced to 42 years jail.


Gambling addicts are well aware of their situation.  Some are in a state of denial.  I have personally experienced a problem gambler who blamed his wife for constantly nagging him which affected his gambling concentration and caused his losses!


The sad fact is that many do not think their gambling addiction is a problem which must be resolved.  CCS used to have a partnership with the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) where gambling counsellors are stationed at CCS.  When gamblers are asked at the end of their financing counselling session if they would like to see a gambling counsellor, most would decline.  For them, they are in trouble because of their debts and not because of their gambling addiction.


This is understandable as most gamblers will only come to their senses when their debts have reached a level that they are unable to cope.  They would have already exhausted their chances of borrowing from family members and friends, maxed out their credit lines with the Banks, borrowed from moneylenders and even loan sharks.  Faced with incessant demands for repayment, bankruptcy petitions from Banks and the potential loss of their jobs and income, they finally realize they have no choice but to seek help with their debts.   Only some may go on to gambling counselling.


The bigger the debt, the harder it is for CCS to come up with a doable repayment plan to meet credit card companies, moneylenders and private debtors.  But we have been able to restructure many big debts successfully.


Whether without professional gambling counselling help, such debtors will revert to their old ways is hard to tell.  But at least the gambling addict is unable to borrow from banks during the repayment period and with no funds and a limited budget, they will not have the means to gamble.

If you are facing a debt issue and would like to seek assistance from CCS, attend our weekly Debt Management talks (conducted both over Zoom and in-person at our office), where you will learn more about what to do, when and how to communicate with creditors, what are the common collection actions creditors can take, what are the various debt settlement options are and what is the CCS Debt Management Programme. Click here for schedule.

After attending the talk, you can submit a request for one-to-one credit counselling. Details on the counselling session and instructions on how to arrange for an appointment will be explained during the talk.

CCS also conduct monthly Facebook Live webinars on topics such as prudent financial management and responsible use of credit. Follow CCS Facebook page to stay updated of our webinars and events.

This article was contributed by Kuo How Nam.

Published 2 June 2023.