PETALING JAYA: A gambling rehabilitation centre has sounded the alarm over the increased involvement of young people in illegal online gambling.
Bryant Leong, chief operations officer of Gambler Rehab Centre, said the youngest case they have come across to date involves a 14-year-old schoolgirl who found herself RM300,000 in debt after becoming addicted to illegal online gambling.
Leong said gambling companies often ensnare youngsters from wealthy backgrounds, knowing their parents can afford to pay off the debt.
He said it is difficult to determine the actual value of debts that youths have racked up as many families tend to suffer in silence.
“We are the last solution for them. They will start looking for rehabilitation centres on the internet only when they are completely broke,” added Leong.
He said 60 out of a total 319 clients who have sought help from his centre since the start of the pandemic were not even 30 years old.
On May 15, Bukit Aman criminal investigation department director Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay threatened district police chiefs with stern action if they fail to act on illegal gambling activities.
Ayob Khan said if the local chiefs are not able to take action, then Bukit Aman would “do it for them”.
Meanwhile, the founder of the centre, a former gambling addict who wished to be known only as Lionel, called on the government to take immediate action to block gambling advertisements on the internet.
Lionel, a pastor added that such companies use young girls as bait to draw in compulsive gamblers.
“There are so many gambling adverts on Facebook, and they will ask pretty young girls to be the public face.
“Are these companies even allowed to advertise on the internet,” asked Lionel.
He accused the government of lacking the political will to tackle the problem and urged the authorities to act consistently.
“Every time (someone kills himself over debts), the police chief will come out and ask why no one ever makes a report about this?
“They will say if this was reported, they would have taken action.
“However, when we actually go and make a police report, they will ask why we borrow money from loan sharks in the first place.
“Then, they tell us that they are unable to handle such cases,” he added.
Lionel urged the government to take concrete action to contain the online gambling menace instead of making the occasional “loud noises in public”.
Illegal gambling just returns to previous levels once the noise has died down, he said.