Saturday 13 September 2014

Problem gamblers can seek help via webchat

Online counselling service is useful in reaching out to the tech-savvy, experts say
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2104

AN ONLINE counselling service for gamblers is being tested by the authorities as lawmakers mull over the proposed Bill to curb online gambling.

Visitors to can communicate round the clock with paracounsellors, who are able to provide a listening ear or support but are not certified counsellors, via a live webchat.

Experts say it is useful in reaching tech-savvy gamblers who may not be so keen to be helped in person.

The webchat has been set up by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) and National Addictions Management Service (NAMS). A spokesman for the NCPG told The Straits Times it is being developed to"expand the accessibility and availability of help services for problem gambling", adding that it is in the "final phase of pilot testing to determine the feasibility and public demand".

The chat service complements the council's existing 24-hour helpline (1800-666-8668) set up in 2009. Both allow the user to remain anonymous.

More details will be given over the next few months.

Earlier this week, a proposed law targeting online gambling was tabled in Parliament.

The Remote Gambling Bill, which could become law when it is next read in Parliament, aims to restrict online gambling through three main measures: blocking access to gambling websites, blocking money transfers to and from them, and banning advertisements which promote online gambling.

The move is prompted by a rise in remote gambling through the Internet and mobile apps. A Home Affairs Ministry survey of 1,000 Internet users last year found that almost three in 10 had gambled remotely at least once in the past 12 months.

Addictions specialist Munidasa Winslow said some people absolutely refuse "to get help face to face... The webchat will appeal to the young, especially those who are used to texting their friends and chatting online". This includes young gamblers who prefer going to casinos "for the bright lights or to show off to their friends".

But he pointed out that older gamblers, even those who gamble online, may prefer using the phone helpline to typing in a webchat.

While the webchat may help reach more problem gamblers, face-to-face counselling is still more effective, experts said.

Ms Deborah Queck, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services which runs a gamblers recovery centre, said: "Face-to-face counselling gives staff the opportunity to have follow-up sessions, meet up with a gambling addict's family and get them to help support him...

"But very few problem gamblers seek help, and the webchat would be good as their first entry point to getting support. They could also be referred to gambling support groups from there."

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