“He can lead others to gamble, show off his ‘vision. [When he wins] he can treat people to food, it gives him a feeling of superiority,” says Wong. Introverted and arrogant youngsters are particularly prone to developing gambling addictions since they are trying to establish a self-image.
Gambling can also lead to crime as gamblers resort to illegal methods to raise money for their games. One of Wong’s cases, Alex (not his real name) began betting on football matches in secondary school as a result of peer pressure. He acted as a banker in school and failed to pay his punters. After disclosing the incident, he was kicked out of school and stole bicycles. Alex was referred to Wong by a probation officer after being charged with theft.
To quit their gambling addictions, Wong thinks gamblers need to first see and admit their gambling is a problem. They should also take action to stop their gambling habits, such as cutting off their betting accounts. Wong says they have various support groups and activities, like a volunteering group and a football group, to re-establish their clients’ social circles and help them adopt a more positive lifestyle. Each support group comprises 20 to 30 people, including clients’ family members.
Like Wu’s centre, Wong receives about 200 cases a year and less than 5 per cent involve people aged below 25. Teenagers and their families seldom seek help until the problem gets out of hand. Wong cites the example of a client she refers to as Travis, whose mother sought help for her son to quit gambling. Before coming to Wong, the mother had already paid off debts of tens of thousands of dollars for Travisthe son. She decided to seek help from the recovery centre after Travis her son borrowed money again, just three months after she had paid off the previous debts.
Wong urges family members of young gamblers to seek help, get counselling and to join cell groups in family counselling centres. “To successfully quit gambling means the person has changed their attitude, has changed their values,” Wong says. Normally gamblers who stop betting for six consecutive months are considered to have successfully quit. Social workers also examine their associated problems, such as insomnia, work performance and interpersonal relationships.
Wong says the government has not provided sufficient resources to support recovery services. She says Yuk Lai Hin Counseling Centre relies on the Ping Wo Fund, a fund supporting gambling recovery services which, ironically, is funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. However, she says she has no idea whether the scheme will continue to allocate funds to the centre after the end of the current contract. “The government has made no promises or plans to allocate a part of its financial budget to subsidise gambling recovery services,” Wong says.
Despite uncertainty over its long-term future, Wong’s centre is far better resourced and funded than Raymond Wu’s Hong Kong Gambling Recovery Centre, which relies on public donations. Wu agrees the government could do a better job at curbing gambling. He notices students learn about the downside of drug use from their textbooks beginning in primary school or even kindergarten. But you will not find any in-depth discussion on the harm of gambling in students’ textbooks. “The government can only tell you not to be addicted to gambling…But you can’t say “Not now, not ever” for gambling,” Wu says.
Edited by Cherry Wong