PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - Gamblers are getting younger and increasingly using the Internet to try their luck in hopes of striking it big.
Besides gambling in online casinos, there are also bookies as young as 13, who take bets in school on football matches.
Gamblers Rehab Centre Malaysia president David Chiang said young punters were a worrying trend, with some already becoming habitual gamblers at 15.
"Youths usually gamble over the Internet because it is not regulated. They will obviously get stopped at casinos because of their age. So they turn to online casinos instead," he said.
Chiang said youths could also deceive their parents into believing they were conducting research over the Internet when they were actually gambling online.
"Parents will easily believe them because the Internet is such a huge part of the lifestyle of youths today," he said,
Chiang said young people were able to gamble in online casinos because they could borrow credit from online brokers, who offered their services on the websites.
"If the teenage gambler loses the credit, the broker would then pay the online casino first with a credit card. The teenager has to repay the broker in cash," he said, adding that besides betting on games like roulette and poker, young gamblers were also fond of sports betting, especially football.
"The youngest habitual gambler I know is a 15-year-old. Habitual gamblers are actually addicted to gambling but they are not aware of it," he said.
Chiang said that while the problem of teenage gambling was widespread across the nation, another alarming trend was schoolchildren borrowing money from loan sharks to pay their gambling debts.
"Some Ah Long know the teenagers' parents are rich enough to pay off the debts so they have no qualms about encouraging them to take loans," Chiang said.
He said young people resorted to gambling because many of them wanted a quick way to get money to buy better handphones, computers and branded goods.
The centre expects a surge in calls to its hotline at the end of Euro 2012, mostly from gamblers who have lost their bets.
MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Seri Michael Chong said he had received six cases of gambling problems involving those aged between 16 and 18, amounting to RM200,000 (S$81,880) so far this year.
"This is considered an increase because last year I received fewer than 10 cases. I've already got six and it is only June," he said.
Chong said he believed the cases highlighted were only the tip of the iceberg, adding that the youths he met were already in serious trouble and needed to seek his help.
"There are many out there who choose not to seek help," he said.
About 80% of gambling cases involve the Chinese, with the other races making up the remaining 20%, he added.