SINGAPORE — While insurance agent Raymond Lim may now be earning an average of S$100,000 a month, the father of two young children was, in his own words, a gambling "addict", and on the verge of bankruptcy 23 years ago.
How did the 46-year-old, who founded RL Consultancy – which provides corporate consulting and training to those in the insurance industry – turn his life around?
When he was 23 years old, Lim was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy at a time when Singaporean men his age were just starting to launch their careers. As a result of his compulsive gambling problem, Lim hit his lowest point when he realised he was indebted to the tune of S$186,000 with no money to pay it off.
"Casinos, online betting, 4D betting and even, turf clubs... anything you name that can be gambled legally, I gambled," Lim shared recently with Yahoo Finance Singapore.
Lim was first exposed to gambling through his parents – casual gamblers who enjoyed mahjong and the occasional casino trip. He barely saw his "alcoholic" father, who was always out working, while his mother was a housewife who frequently played mahjong and card games at home.
At 16 years old, Lim discovered that he had a "talent" for calculating odds and probability, and developed a strong interest in understanding gambling. But what started as an interest quickly snowballed into an addiction by the time he was 18. Around that time, Lim began to work part-time in a hotel bar as he was also paying for his studies. There, he met friends who were frequent gamblers.
"After work, my friends and I would get together to play mahjong. By the time we hit 18, we went into sports betting," said Lim.
Lim's gambling activities also affected his studies, causing him to skip lectures and classes. He was enrolled in an electronic and computer engineering diploma course, and while he managed to complete his studies and paid the fees, his grades were "borderline pass" and insufficient for him to enrol in a degree programme.
"I initially wanted to work to pay for my fees, but it came to a point where I thought gambling was an easy way to get money, so I got hooked," Lim recalled.
Signs of a gambling addiction
After completing his national service, Lim came out to work as a pre-sales engineer selling chips and electronic parts at the age of 22. With a full-time job that paid a monthly salary of more than S$3,000 and gave him access to credit facilities, Lim started gambling even more. According to him, this was the "peak of the urge to gamble".
"The gambler's mindset is always to win to cover back. We always think that the fastest way is to bet and win. But when you do that, you come into a vicious cycle. I won with the belief that I would win more; I lost with the belief that I could win back," said Lim.
That mindset eventually caused Lim to rack up a debt of S$186,000 within a year. The minimum monthly instalment amount required to service the debt was about S$6,000 – far exceeding his income at the time. Although he never turned to loan sharks or took out personal loans, he had exhausted all banking credit avenues available to him and resorted to borrowing about S$10,000 each from three close friends. This, in turn affected their relationship.
"I hit the lowest point of my life. But it's like a ball, when it hits the floor it bounces back. I'm just glad that the ball didn't burst," said Lim.
Overcoming his gambling addiction
In the midst of his crippling addiction, Lim was dating his wife, whom he attributes as his pillar of support – someone who never gave up on him. He also cited his Christian faith in helping him pull through his "rock-bottom" phase. These factors motivated him into changing his ways and to try to pay off his debt.
He considered going into the property industry or starting a business, but he had no capital to do so. He finally decided on doing insurance full-time because he enjoyed selling. For the next six to nine months, Lim focused on repaying his debt and said that he survived on a budget of S$20 per day, including S$10 on transport and a diet consisting of "pau, bread and water". He relied on commissions. If he closed a deal, he would treat himself to economy rice.
"I worked about 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I was out prospecting, street canvassing, doing road shows, door-knocking or even industry door-knocking. Then, the commissions came in. When the ability to pay (my debt instalments) became achievable, I became very motivated," said Lim.
The gambler's mindset is always to win to cover back. We always think that the fastest way is to bet and win... I won with the belief that I would win more; I lost with the belief that I could win back.Raymond Lim
However, it wasn't smooth sailing. Lim said he experienced "withdrawal symptoms" in the first six months and went back to gambling. This time however, he had a good support system that included his then-girlfriend, insurance mentor and two of his close friends. Together, they worked out strategies for him to curb the habit. This included avoiding gambling venues, suspending his credit cards, and being accountable to people he trusted and cared about.
"Without external help and accountability, I couldn't have done it. I no longer wanted to gamble when I saw that earning was a good way to build wealth instead of gambling. That was my turning point," said Lim.
After 14 months, Lim managed to repay his debts in full. At the highest point, Lim was able to make a monthly payment of S$20,000. Taking interest charges into account, he estimated that the total he ended up paying was closer to the range of S$250,000 to S$300,000.
"The first thing I did after fully repaying my debt was to cut my credit card. It was a very empowering process," said Lim, adding that although he still uses credit cards now, he sets very low limits on them.
Get to know yourself
These days, Lim no longer has the urge to gamble save for the occasional sessions during Chinese New Year celebrations with family and friends. To help prevent a relapse into gambling, Lim said he found sharing his story with others, and counselling them, to be empowering.
He has also voluntarily applied for the National Council on Problem Gambling's (NCPG) self-exclusion programme. Under self-exclusion, an individual will be banned from entering or remaining on all casino premises and jackpot machine rooms in Singapore, and from accessing online betting platforms or counters.
I no longer wanted to gamble when I saw that earning was a good way to build wealth instead of gambling. That was my turning point.Raymond Lim
Lim also learned the importance of getting to know himself. Understanding his strengths – such as his knack for counting probability and his love for connecting with people – inspired him to start his own company.
"From the day I started gambling, I knew my strengths, it's just that I applied them wrongly," Lim said.
"Stay away from gambling."