Deadly Stakes is a collection of accounts on people who became addicted to gambling, and the toll it ultimately took on their lives.
Edited by Kaiwen Leong, the book consists of personal confessions from the gamblers themselves, as well as the perspectives of their family, friends and acquaintances.
Here, we reproduce an excerpt from the book where one Tan Hock Chye describes how he grew up resenting his parents' for being chicken rice hawkers. In his quest for easy money, he fell in love with a compulsive gambler, eventually spiralling into a gambling addiction.
Thankfully, with the help of a friend, he managed to turn his life around.
Deadly Stakes is published by Marshall Cavendish and you can get a copy here.
"The Lucky Ex-Gambler" by Kaiwen Leong
My parents were chicken rice sellers
My name is Tan Hock Chye, but most of my friends call me Chye.
My father migrated from Fukien Province in southern China to Hong Kong and then to Singapore, where he met my mother and settled down.
Back in Hong Kong, he helped his father sell chicken rice at a hawker stall. In Singapore, the only job he knew was selling chicken rice at a hawker stall.
While in primary school, I had already begun to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather — yes, you’ve guessed it, also selling chicken rice.
I hated it. At the age of nine, all I wanted to do was to have fun with my friends after school. But the only thing I was allowed to do was to help my parents at their stall in a hawker centre.
I started out by helping them deliver plates of chicken rice to hungry patrons, trying to balance up to six plates at a time on a tray.
Then I moved on to helping my mother scoop hot, cooked rice onto plates. I would be drenched with sweat from leaning over the huge steaming tub of rice, reaching in with only a small plastic bowl as a scoop.
When I was 15, my father taught me how to chop up the chicken into pieces. I can still remember how oily and sticky the meat felt on my fingers and how heavy the meat cleaver was.
My arms ached each time I lifted the cleaver to chop up the chicken. And each time the cleaver landed on the wooden chopping block, oil and fatty matter splattered onto my clothes, my skin, and even my hair.
I used to go home stinking of chicken. The worst part was trying to get bits of chicken meat out from underneath my fingernails. They would remain there no matter how much I scrubbed myself in the shower or how many times I washed my hands.
I had to use a toothpick to dig them out. And even then, the unmistakable smell of chicken still clung on.
I felt so humiliated when a classmate saw me and laughed
As a teenager, it was the ultimate humiliation to be seen at the stall.
One day, a schoolmate saw me helping out at the stall. He pointed at me and then began to laugh loudly. I was embarrassed. I just wanted to cry; I could already feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
I stepped off my stool, moved away from the tub of rice, and told my parents defiantly that I quit, I would not be helping out anymore. But my father only gripped my shoulders and pushed me back onto the stool.
He said firmly that there would be no quitting until the family had enough money to survive.
When I refused to stay, he slapped me sharply on my left cheek. I could feel every nerve in my cheek blaze with agony, but I shook my head stubbornly. He slapped me again, this time on my right cheek. My entire face stung with pain, humiliation and anger.
Why did I have to suffer like this? I was only a kid who wanted to be like the other kids in school. I just wanted to be able to hold my head up high and not be teased as the “Chicken Rice Boy” in school, as I was known after that day.
I just wanted a normal life. But it seemed that in order to have a normal life, I first needed money.
I had no choice so I continued to help at the stall. There was nobody to console me. I didn’t even have a piece of tissue to wipe my tears. All I had was the dirty sleeve of my school shirt.
At that time, I didn’t know that my parents had their own problems and their sadness was much bigger than whatever I could even imagine.
I didn’t know that if they could have had it any other way, I wouldn’t have had to work in the stall everyday with them.
After NS, I was looking out for easy ways to make money
I didn’t do very well in school but managed to get into a business course at a local polytechnic.
When I graduated, I served my two years in National Service just like other Singaporean men. I was aimless when I finished my National Service stint.
I didn’t know what to do. So I took the first job that came my way. I became a personal trainer at a gym and continued to work at my parents’ stall whenever I could.
In the meantime, I kept my eyes peeled for an easy opportunity to obtain money so that I could lift myself higher.
Getting into debt after being swindled
In the following chapters, I confess how I fell for a foreign woman who told me she was a successful businesswoman and promised to give me enough money to fund my own businesses.
I proposed to her. I gave her money. I even gave her my heart. But I was hoodwinked.
She was actually a compulsive gambler and I was under her spell. She not only swindled me of my entire life savings but also got me into thousands of dollars in debt.
I confess how I was later convinced by a friend to start gambling in order to repay my debts.
It began as a thrilling ride with cash flowing in like rain from the sky. My friend convinced me that I had some supernatural power, some magic that allowed me to keep winning while everyone around me lost.
I gave myself a title. I called myself the God of Gambling.
This friend turned out to be a deceitful snake. I had believed him. I had given him money when he said he needed it.
I had even called him my “master”. Slowly, as the casino advantage took over, the flow of money dried up and my debts transformed into a massive leech, sucking my bank account of every single cent I had.
The leech swelled larger and larger, its skin nearly bursting from the amount of blood and life it had devoured from me.
My debts grew bigger. I sank so deep that I could no longer see sunlight.
For the second time, I lost everything. I borrowed money I didn’t have to gamble for money I would never win in order to pay off the debts I couldn’t pay.
And what about that ‘friend’? He was no better than my ex-fiancée. He never returned my money.
He disappeared when I began losing big time in the casino. Gone were the days when he would praise me as the “God of Gambling”. To everyone else, behind my back, he labeled me a big fat idiot.
My life never seemed so bleak
I wasn’t just broke. I was hurt and in pain, worse than a wounded stray dog left by the roadside to suffer a slow death.
During this period, life had never seemed so bleak.
It wasn’t just about the tears that I cried before I went to sleep at night, nor the beatings that I had to endure when the creditors came knocking.
The worst part was the guilt that followed me like a ball and chain shackled to me, dragging behind me with every step and every breath I took.
It followed me like an evil spirit. It whispered in my ear over and over again. It flashed images from my past whenever I tried to lie down to rest.
I couldn’t even get an hour’s worth of peaceful sleep without the monster reminding me of what I had done.
I nearly murdered my own parents.
My mother was arrested while my father suffered a heart attack
While I was struggling with my gambling addiction, my mother was arrested by the police and sent to jail.
She was 67 years old. I saw them take her away. We were at the stall one afternoon when the police came. A few months earlier, my mother had taken pity on a foreign lady from China who had come begging for a job.
The lady didn’t mind having the dirtiest job. She just wanted to earn some money to put something — anything — on the table for her four children.
My mother took pity on her and employed her to wash the dishes. To my mother, it was an act of kindness. But to the authorities, it was against the law.
I was hysterical when the police told me that they would have to arrest and prosecute my mother. I shouted and screamed so loudly that customers and people in the other stalls turned around to look at me.
I even tried to pull my mother away from the clutches of the policemen. But the law has no eyes for tears or ears for weeping.
They took her away. My father and I were left alone.
My mother was in prison for several months and shortly after she was released, my 70-year-old father suffered a heart attack.
We didn't have the money to pay for my father's hospital bills
I had just delivered several plates of chicken rice to customers when I saw my father writhing on the ground, clutching his chest and gasping for breath.
All I could hear was choking noises from his throat. He sounded like an animal dying. He couldn’t even talk. He just stared up into my eyes fearfully, his face contorted with pain.
Fortunately, the ambulance arrived quickly and my father got to the hospital in time. The medical bills for investigation, hospitalisation and all the procedures he had to undergo came up to nearly $100,000.
We were just hawkers, we had no money of that sort, no insurance.
But there was no choice. He needed medical intervention and I needed to find a way to pay the bills.
I thought I could pay for my father's medical bills by gambling
This was at the height of my addiction. This was when I began stealing from my parents’ chicken rice earnings in order to gamble.
I thought I could multiply the money I stole in no time. When I lost, I kept convincing myself that I would win it all back.
Somehow, I told myself that the next time would be different. I imagined the proud look in my mother’s eyes when I would finally come home with the trophy cash prize in order to save my father.
I imagined the look of gratitude that would be on my father’s face. But it was all in my imagination.
Soon, even the money that I had stolen from my parents dissolved into nothing more than a figment of my imagination.
Despite that, I found myself returning to the casino time and time again, as if controlled like a puppet by invisible strings.
I became so addicted that everything else became a blur
It felt like I was being submerged under a thick layer of dense liquid. I couldn’t hear the desperate cries of my parents urging me to stop.
I didn’t care when I hit them to shut them up. I didn’t even take notice when the gym fired me.
It was all a hazy blur, like the spinning of a roulette wheel or the electronic shuffling of cards.
The only feeling I remembered was the smoothness of the cool plastic chips between my fingers and the crisp cards underneath my sweaty palms.
I no longer remembered who my parents were. I cared only of the other gamblers around me who whooped with me, cheered with me and jumped up with me when I won.
They were my blood brothers.
I forgot. I forgot why I had even started gambling in the first place. All I knew was that I had to win it all back, and then win some more.
I didn’t realise that my mother had sold my father’s beloved Toyota Camry to pay the hospital bills. I didn’t know that she had to beg for money from relatives to make up the shortfall. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when my father came home from the hospital.
But I had a friend who stuck by me, even though I was violent towards him
It was gambling and gambling and nothing else. Throughout the ordeal, it was a childhood friend who stayed resolutely by my side and woke me up.
He was working overseas then, but he would fly back to help me whenever I got into a bad state.
Mostly we spoke on the phone. He spent a small fortune on phone calls to counsel me. When I spat at him, swore at him and even punched him, he never wavered and stayed like a rock by my side.
When I stuck daggers into my parents’ bleeding hearts, he was the one who stayed behind to patch them up for me.
He was the one who kept my parents’ love and hope for me alive.
I never asked him for any of this. In fact, I told him many times to stay away from me. I used to complain to all my other gambling friends about how irritating and annoying he was, and how unlucky I was to have such a pesky friend.
As it turned out, I was the lucky one. When I finally opened my eyes, I realised an important lesson — I was a lucky gambler indeed. But I was not lucky because I won.
I was lucky because I still had friends and family who cared about me even though I had become a monster.
My good intentions, no matter how noble they were, had been mangled into a foul mess. I started out wanting to save my parents, especially my father.
But I ended up nearly killing them, not just by stealing their money but also by breaking their hearts as I was their only son.
Dear reader, know this. The casino does not exist to dish out money. It sells the hope of fast money.
I never stood a chance. I was doomed from the very second I placed my first bet.
Today, thanks to my friend, I am going back to school to carry on with my studies after nearly a decade of drifting in and out of a dangerous addiction.
He opened my eyes to the value of education and to the fact that it’s never too late to learn.
He is not just my friend, but a true mentor and teacher. Through him and a few other wonderful people he introduced me to, with their help, I am able to share my story.
It is extremely shameful and painful to expose my story for the public to read, but it is a story that must be told.
I would never want anyone to go through what I went through. And I would never want anyone to have to end up disfigured, abandoned or even dead, like some of the gamblers you will read about in this book.
I am the lucky ex-gambler. But if you change your cash for chips, if you step up to the table and if you place that bet, you might not be quite as lucky.
Left image by Lionel Roubeyrie via Flickr, right image by freestocks.org via Flickr