While on a family holiday to Amsterdam 20 years ago, a father’s compulsive gambling led to a lost son. Camillus Sim is an ex-gambler who went from lottery winner to running from loan sharks. Darren Boon meets the man who was Ruined by gambling, raised by God
CAMILLUS SIM WAS on a family holiday in Amsterdam when his son went missing. He and his wife, Eunice, had wanted to visit a casino, but their six-year-old Joshua was not allowed inside.
So the parents took him to a nearby restaurant, ordered for him the biggest ice-cream sundae, and promised to return in 20 minutes.
“We took more than 20 minutes,” said Camillus, aged 53, as he recalled the panic and anxiety he felt when they couldn’t find Joshua. Searching frantically, they eventually found him at the casino entrance. Relieved, Camillus quickly forgot the episode in the ecstasy of his casino winnings.
This story appears in Camillus’ recently published memoirs “Casino – A Christian Testimony”.
He had earlier contributed a testimony in the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC) publication ‘Touch of God’ after a retreat. Despite encouragement from CSC friends, he felt he wasn’t ready to write a book, not until the Singapore government announced its plan to build a casino here.
“Christians should know the dangers of gambling,” said Camillus and he hopes that the book will help enlighten those already “in bondage” to gambling.
The book was completed in a year, and was published this March.
What Camillus found most difficult was reliving his rock bottom experience when he fled with his family from loan sharks and creditors. Fearing for his son’s safety, Camillus even took Joshua, then in Secondary Two, out of school.
That was not his first time playing with fire. Earlier, the former air steward had racked up a huge loan shark debt.
One of Camillus’ sisters sold her house to help, and another, a Catholic, together with several friends from Marriage Encounter, raised several thousand dollars to help clear his debts. But Camillus soon returned to his old ways, borrowing money, again from loan sharks, to bet heavily during the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
On hindsight, Camillus realised his foolishness in thinking that he could win enough to pay his debts. Just because he had won that much before, he thought he could do it again.
His finest gambling moments include winning $42,000 on a cruise ship casino while simultaneously striking first prize in a 4D draw. He had also won both the first and third prizes in a single 4D draw, and the second and starter prizes in another draw. This false sense of security and a feeling of invincibility lured him deeper into the gambling abyss.
His string of good luck began after Camillus prayed to the Four-Faced Buddha. Then an unbeliever, he sought “deities and gods and non-Christian gods” – from the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple at Waterloo Street to Novena Church – to pray for luck.
“I was just thinking about money… always just money and money,” he recalled.
He started gambling by dabbling in ‘tikam-tikam’ (a popular 1960s gambling game), mahjong and Blackjack, but it was roulette that hooked Camillus when he first visited an illegal casino. The tone of his voice rose when he spoke about the spin of the wheel.
After a windfall, Camillus quit his job as a flight steward and started a Thai massage parlour, spending his weekends gambling on cruise liners.
“I thought I could be a professional gambler. So my job was actually… a second occupation. I wanted gambling to be the first,” he said. But it didn’t work out for him.
“In the end, it was really bad,” he said wistfully.
While on the run from his creditors, Camillus was invited to attend a Sabah retreat conducted by Father Vincent Lee.
There, he “rested in the Holy Spirit” and felt his burdens lifted. He received an inner peace telling him that “life is not all about money”, and he broke down and cried uncontrollably.
“I felt that I had to change, repent and start from scratch,” said Camillus.
Father Lee helped Camillus to find God who said to him, “I will love you with an everlasting love… you will find Me if you seek Me with all your heart.”
Encouraged by another retreatant, Camillus went to the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) and met then parish priest Father James Yeo, who invited him to join the RCIA.
Eventually, Camillus was declared bankrupt until being discharged this year. He was prompted to contact his creditors, including the loan sharks, to settle his debts.
Starting out again has been hard, but Camillus is grateful for God’s intervention and graces, and for the people sent to help him, including friends who bought him a second-hand van to aid him in his work at the IHM parish bookshop, which he has been running since 2002.
“The ME group has journeyed with me … since the Sabah retreat. They were my sponsors. They gave me a place to stay when I was on the run,” he said.
When money is scarce, he is sometimes tempted to buy 4D tickets, but the Holy Spirit always reminds him of his former gambling lifestyle, so he prays to God and perseveres in his newfound life.
Working in church and actively participating in ministries such as RCIA and charismatic prayer groups has helped, as have attending daily Mass and spending time in Eucharistic adoration.
“I’ve stopped gambling totally,” declared Camillus. “I don’t even spend one dollar on 4D.”
So great has his transformation been that it has influenced his mother, a Buddhist of many years, to become Catholic. Thanks to Camillus’ example, Michael Gomez, a friend from their air steward days, has also given up gambling.
As for Eunice, who helps Camillus run the IHM bookshop, witnessing her husband’s “180-degree” transformation and new happiness in life has led her to believe in God and the Church.
“It was this new life and the way he sought to live it [that] gave me the faith to trust in God and become a member of the Church,” she shared.
Despite his gambling, Eunice believes that Camillus has always been “a responsible husband and father”. Her real challenges came after they realised that they were deep in debt.
“As a wife and mother, I took this problem as my own and we strived to set things straight together,” she shared.
Their son Joshua, now a fresh university graduate with Honours, said that the whole experience has given him a new perspective in life.
“Studying and going to school used to be something dreaded, but I have come to realise that it really is a luxury,” the 26-year-old said. “I have come to appreciate my family as more than just people I meet on Chinese New Year, but as a source of constant love and support. In our most difficult times, family support guided us through like a bright star in the darkest night.”
To Joshua, Camillus is a hero. Even though the family was struggling to make ends meet, Camillus never stopped Joshua from “dreaming of a university education or feeling disadvantaged in any way”.
Although sacrifices were made, Joshua said that his father “remains as he is always – cheerful and approachable, with a zest for life that comes only from finding a purpose in it”.
The opening of two casinos in Singapore does not change matters for compulsive gamblers who would always find ways to get their fixes, said Camillus, adding that those considering entering a casino should not, because “as humans, we are weak, and the temptation” to be “seduced into the grandeur of the casino … is strong”.
While Camillus regrets dragging his family into his mess, he treasures the experience of finding God through it. “If I didn’t go through all this, I don’t know if I would find Him so real in my life,” he said.
Despite its title, Camillus hopes that the focus of his book would not be on gambling, but rather on God’s grace, transformation, conversion, and family.
“Casino – A Christian Testimony” is sold at $15 at various Christian bookstores and Catholic parishes.