A Singapore pastor who runs charity organisation, Blessed Grace Social Services, have expressed his opposition to the Singapore government’s recent decision to legalise online gambling websites.

Pastor Billy Lee said that while he trusts that the government-legalised online gambling websites have “safety limits” like expenditure and funding limits, those who reached the “safety limits” will just move on to illegal websites because they are hooked.

“But when Singapore Pools and Tote Board come into play, they are well-regulated and players don’t see any risks involved. Once the safe limits on the legal sites are reached, some players may move on to illegal sites, because they are hooked.”

The legalisation of the online websites by the government will also attract new gamblers, especially younger ones in their twenties who are more online savvy, and led them into gambling addiction.

When a person is addicted to gambling, the “safety limits” will be useless as it has become a “brain disease”, instead of a “character problem”, the pastor said.

“The major misconception about gambling addiction is that you can kick the habit on your own, which is self-deception. Because if you are addicted, some things have changed in the chemical system in your brain. You need help.”

A psychiatrist whom the state media talked to verify the pastor’s assessment and said:

“Gambling addiction is not a character problem, it’s a chronic relapsing disease of the brain. The gambler’s mind is loaded with irrational thoughts and illusions of control. The reward centre in the brain is very active and there’s a very intense urge to gamble. There is a process in the brain called neuro-plasticity, where the brain changes over time, and becomes highly sensitive to gambling triggers, for example, friends who gamble, free time and boredom.”

The Singapore government has however approved the legalisation of gambling websites for the two state-owned gambling houses, Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club. The move is a financially-motivated decision to collect more taxes otherwise not available from a total ban on gambling sites. According to the Singapore government, a total ban will only “drive the problem underground” but did not explain further how legalisation of gambling will improve the situations.