Aa a Penangite, I am always asked by my colleagues and friends in the Klang Valley why is it that most get-rich-quick schemes are located in the island state and the investors mostly its citizens.
I have asked that same question myself, since I’ve heard enough stories of relatives and friends who have been entangled in this web of financial crookery.
It’s not something new. It used to be called the pyramid scheme and Ponzi but, like most, it is just another scam. The new term is ‘money game’ and it’s probably called this to warn new participants that there will be winners and losers, like in any other game.
However, no one is listening because most people are merely interested in the quick returns from their investments.
There are some reasons why Penang lang (Hokkien for people) have warmed up to these quick-rich con jobs.
Penang is a predominantly Chinese state and rightly or wrongly, the appetite for risk there is higher. Some may dismiss risk as a euphemism for gambling, but the bottom line is, many of its denizens are prepared to roll the dice.
Given that there are so few police reports lodged against operators, despite the huge number of investors, indicates the readiness of these players to try their luck.They clearly are aware of the element of risk involved when they lay their money down, but the huge returns override any rational thinking. No risk, no gain, they probably tell themselves.
Chun Wai has been right that Chinese love gambling, always believing foolishly they have invincible luck, wakakaka.
Anyway, in 'happier' days (2010), wakakaka, I once wrote an article about gambling (or gaming) for CPI (Centre for Policy Initiatives) titled A disease deadlier than AIDS.
My article went as follows, showing the innate but foolish gambling streak in Chinese (and to an extent, Indians as well):
It is said that in both good and bad times, two professions always flourish – the accountant and the undertaker.
But there is a third, seldom mentioned profession which is even more versatile especially when times become worse. We are talking about those in the gambling industry, i.e. operators of casino, lotteries (both legal and illegal) and bookies.
The issue of gambling and its social outcome is even more germane today with Singapore opening two casinos on Pulau Sentosa. In the past we saw Singapore gamblers flocking to Genting Highlands but now we may expect the lemming-like migration of avid punters in the other direction. And regardless of which country’s casino attracts more clients, the winner would still be the same member of the triad of evergreen professions.
The lucrative gambling or, more correctly, gaming industry is virtually a rich goldmine with an endless lode for the owners and investors. One such is Ascot Sports, owned by tycoon Vincent Tan.
Even Ibrahim Ali – the “Malay warrior" heading the super-nationalist NGO Perkasa (and presumably a staunch Muslim) has had to fend off allegations that he own shares in Ascot. [CPI note: Ibrahim has denied the allegations and wants the PKR MP Saifuddin who raised the issue in Parliament to be referred to the special committee on rights and privileges.]
But at the other end of the spectrum, for the poor or financially desperate, gambling represents a shortcut to riches.
Fantasized formula for instant wealth
Despite the almost impossible odds of winning, say, a lottery, each punter continues to imagine he or she will be the lucky one.
Recent headlines in local newspapers haven’t helped when they informed us that the 4-D lotteries offered a jackpot of RM10 million or that a Chinese national won $1.5 million dollars at the opening of the Singapore casino. Unfortunately, such selective news, focussing only on the odd occasional winners minus a balanced coverage on the more regular losing majority, would only inflame the fantasy of gamblers.
In an interesting book by Dr Desmond Lam titled ‘The World of Chinese Gambling’ (2009), he identified Chinese as the ethnic group with the highest risk-seeking behaviour in gambling.
I bought it in a Macau casino, wakakaka
Among many factors contributing to the gambling problems of the Chinese, he attributed their superstitious beliefs as a major influence and consequently their unwarranted conviction that they could exercise control over the gambling outcomes.
We all too often see this pattern of behaviour in our local Chinese seeking divine or supernatural help from every nook, crook and corner for, what Penangites would term as, chun-chun see ay jee (the correct 4 numbers) for a win.
An urban legend on such supernatural assistance originated in the mid 1950s of three men visiting Penang’s Batu Lanchang cemetery to invoke the ghost of a woman for numbers. At the heart of this deliciously occult story was the information that the woman died during childbirth and was buried with the stillborn baby. The midnight adventure was spiced up with the usual paraphernalia of blood of a cockerel and a bamboo stake.
As the tale went, for some unexplained reason, the ghost had to go ‘somewhere’ unaccompanied to seek the numbers so she had to leave the corpse (or ghost) of her child in their care. Only one man was brave enough to remain behind to accommodate her instructions and of course he was the one to benefit from her eventual revelation.
Side-note: For more, see my post in Kongsamkok titled Midnight at Batu Lanchang, wakakaka.
Desperate men, desperate measures
But such superstitious reliance on the occult has not been confined to the Chinese. About 10 years ago, local news reported that a group of Indian men wanted to obtain the winning 4-digit numbers from the Goddess Kali. Apparently their imploration was accompanied by the ultimate votive offering, where an American woman, Carolyn Janice Ahmad, was murdered as a blood sacrifice.
There was another reported case of a young Indian boy sacrificed for similar reason through the gruesome act of decapitation. The extent to which some desperate gamblers would go is a chilling thought.
A pathological gambler is one who just cannot stop gambling. I bet (pun not intended) most of us have witnessed or even personally know such a creature.
In Australia, some ‘Vietnamese’ have been notorious for leaving their children in cars for hours while they gambled away in nearby casinos. The usual case would tell us of the parents “just popping into the casino for a few minutes to merely see what’s going on" (so they rationalised to themselves) but alas, they soon became so immersed, engrossed and obsessed with the blackjack, baccarat, roulette and one-arm bandits that they would completely forget they had left their small children locked in their parked cars.
There were more than a couple of cases where police were forced to break into the cars to rescue those traumatised children. And guess what, the ‘Vietnamese’ (or ‘Cambodians’ or ‘Laotians’) culprits were in the majority ethnic Chinese.
Dr Lam wrote that surveys (conducted in different years in different Chinese-majority countries) showed that Hong Kong suffered most from gambling fever, with 6.5% of its population having probable gambling problems, of which 2.7% of them were probable pathological cases. Macau came second with 4.2%. No survey was carried out for China or Malaysia, but Singapore has 1.4% of its Chinese population as probable pathological gamblers.
It is unfortunate that Chinese, and many Malaysians, including Indians and Malays, consider gambling addicts as society’s embarrassing black sheep and thus a social problem, when the truth is these pathological gamblers suffer from mental sickness. Unless this illness is recognised, the correct treatment would not be prescribed.
How to curb gambling
Making visitors to casinos pay a non-refundable entrance fee is not going to stop the problem gamblers.
However, some regulatory measures may ameliorate their obsessed involvement, such as prohibiting the placement of ATM machines at gambling facilities. But we can expect the ingenuity of the casinos to circumvent any such regulations; a recent Singapore news report indicated that though the ATM machines may not be within the premises, these ‘coincidentally’ would be just immediately outside or very nearby.
Regulations should also prohibit the use of credit cards to withdraw cash at gambling establishments, and require a register of local visitors to casinos to identify potential pathological gamblers, and in some instances to serve as early warnings to probably crimes of embezzlements, theft or even treason (for monetary rewards).
Dr Lam showed a case of embezzlement by a mainland Chinese official to settle gambling debts with a number of Macau casinos. He was a former branch director of the post office bureau of Lanshi town in Foushan, Guangdong province who pilfered nearly RMB 1.8 billion (US$ 238 million) from 352 accounts in the postal saving bank.
Thus it is a mental sickness which has to be dealt with through the support of medical-psychology experts. The government should either provide funding for, or tax casinos into funding public clinics to address the mental health needs of pathological gamblers. Maybe an NGO support group a la ‘Anonymous Gamblers’ would now be most timely.
Pathological gambling is an insidious disease far more threatening than AIDS as we tend to be more lenient and accepting of its presence within our midst even though its drastic effects and consequences on the innocents, especially the families of the gamblers, have been known to be far worse.