Protecting gamblers even when unwelcomed

By Xinyi@MSF

As an officer with the Gambling Safeguards Division, Xinyi knows that emotions can run high when it comes to helping those with a gambling addiction. In this article, she shares about her work in protecting problem gamblers from financial harm, even when unwelcome.

Sometimes, Xinyi visits the casino. But it’s not because she’s there to gamble.

She works at MSF’s Gambling Safeguards Division, and she’s at the casino to observe gamblers and their habits.

In this Division, Xinyi and her colleagues oversee casino exclusions and visit limits.

Some apply for these voluntarily, but family members can apply to protect their loved ones too.

Others who are declared bankrupt or on Government financial aid are unable to enter the casinos altogether. There are also individuals who have had their access restricted by the National Council on Problem Gambling, and some are not too pleased about it.

Take a person who plays the jackpot machine, for example. He pushes the button and gets a rush from the sounds and sights from the machine. He then repeats it, again and again.

For someone who is depressed, this mode of playing could be a form of escapism – for him to seek comfort in the repeated push of the button, along with the possibility of winning. But where will this habit and spending bring him to, eventually?

When Xinyi interviews individuals with gambling problems, she helps them understand risks that they may not be aware of. She also encourages them to seek professional help to tackle their gambling problems and to address underlying issues without resorting to gambling as the only means of coping.

Despite this, some still disagree with the restriction or exclusion order imposed because of their financial vulnerability. And in the course of helping them, Xinyi encounters hostility from time to time.

She recalls the moments when security intervention was necessary: A man, unhappy with his exclusion order, refused to leave the office until he spoke to the panel of assessors behind the decision. The management had to intervene and security officers had to escort him off the premises.

On another occasion, a man got angry about the questions asked during an interview. He raised his voice and made personal attacks about how she would not understand his situation given her age. His complaints were loud enough for the security officer to intervene to ensure that she was safe.

Thankfully, Xinyi has learned to stay unaffected by such hostile verbal attacks. She has experienced worse during her 1.5 years as a child protection officer prior to working here.

“It’s a lot about getting them to cooperate”, she said. “I try to calm them down and explain the rationale behind these social safeguards.  I also explain the entire process to them and then offer assistance to help them make the necessary financial declarations.”

“I believe that as frontline officers, we simply have to manage it as it comes,” she said. She is grateful for a supportive team where colleagues and supervisors alike are cognizant of frontline challenges and are willing to help one another when the need arises.

Xinyi takes negative encounters in her stride and chooses to focus on the purpose behind her line of work. Having the privilege of helping people, understanding their stories and directing them to the right agencies for help on coping without gambling is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of her job.