Slot machine players in Malaysia risk their financial stability to ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling

Dr Prem who has seen the toll of gambling on his many clients at his rehabilitation center, said “The trend you’re seeing has been around for a long time, but most of it has been done quietly.”

In a concerning trend sweeping across Malaysia, slot machine enthusiasts are risking their financial stability and well-being as they fall prey to the addictive enchantment of what experts are calling the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. According to many observers, the addiction of players quietly pervades slot machine clubs even if the domestic gambling scene of Malaysia is dominated by large casinos. The rise of online gambling sites nowadays has led the people of Malaysia to be trapped in this vicious cycle of debt.

Gold Valley near the Kuala Lumpur shopping center is doing swift business, a funland of slot machines for adults. This is a place where free drinks are being offered to the gamblers in Malaysia. These gamblers for an entry bet of 50 ringgit (U.S.$10) can stand to win a jackpot. The majority of them lose all their ringgit. Hours pass at the rows of slot machines and the cash is gobbled up by the consoles that are brightly lit. According to addiction experts, entitling the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling, slot machines trap players to have a go and experience a very quick dopamine hit during their winning and losing streaks.

Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam, the CEO of Solace Asia, which operates addiction rehabilitation centres in the region, which also includes a branch in Malaysia, said, “When one wins the dopamine starts to fire in the brain that activates the reward system, you’re happy.” Gambling addiction has become a growing concern in Malaysia, and the recent surge in slot machine-related incidents has prompted the government to consider stricter regulations.

Experts warn that the psychological impact of slot machine addiction can be severe, leading to financial ruin, strained relationships, and mental health issues.

Starting from the Poipet on the Thai border with Cambodia to Marina Bay Sands of Singapore, the people of Malaysia are regulars in the Southeast Asian casino scene. The Genting Highlands was founded by the late Malaysian businessman Lim Goh Tong in the year 1965, it dominates the domestic gambling scene of Malaysia. The Genting Highlands is a resort development of hotels, casinos, and shopping malls, which is an hour’s drive from the city of Kuala Lumpur. According to its website, Malaysian Muslims who are under the age of 21 are not allowed to enter there. A former gambling addict told This Week in Asia that people thought in Malaysia alcohol was an Indian problem; drugs were a Malay problem, and gambling was a Chinese problem.

Several studies have also made it clear that slot machines are known to be one of the most addictive forms of gambling. Tom, who is Malaysian in his late 40s, asserted that Muslims are allowed to register using fake names at some slot machine clubs. Dr Prem who has seen the toll of gambling on his many clients at his rehabilitation center, said “The trend you’re seeing has been around for a long time, but most of it has been done quietly.” According to Dr Prem, the pandemic of COVID-19 led to a surge in online gambling addiction as people stuck in lockdown turned to it. He also highlighted the point of tighter restrictions on gambling and a need for more public education about the insidious potential of these clubs as addiction is a disease.