SCMP Monday, June 18, 2001

More gambling 'means more illness'


Legalising different forms of gambling could increase the number of pathological gamblers, a mental health expert warned yesterday.
Dr Tsang Fan-kwong, of Castle Peak Hospital, said overseas experience showed the number of pathological gamblers tended to increase after gambling was legalised but he did not have clinical findings about soccer gambling.
His comments came ahead of the release of the Government's consultation paper on soccer gambling. The paper is expected to be released this week.
"In the US, we can see there are more patients [with pathological gambling problems] after some kinds of gambling are legalised," Dr Tsang said on a radio. "There has been a similar observation in Australia in the past two or three years after new casinos were built with more slot machines." He did not provide statistics.
Pathological gamblers are those who cannot control the urge to gamble until they have lost all their money and all alternative means to borrow it.
Chinese University psychology professor Freedom Leung Yiu-kin estimated about 100,000 people suffered from serious gambling problems in Hong Kong and many were young gamblers.
"We hear many people started gambling on stocks when they were only 14 or 15. They also gamble on different kinds of things," Dr Leung said.
Yesterday, a religious and social service group called on the Government not to legalise soccer gambling.
The Reverend Siu Yu-fat, 44, of the C & M Kei Yam Alliance Church, said he was a former gambling addict and knew how it could break up families.
"Many people say gambling is a kind of entertainment but I must say it can dramatically influence not only an individual but his or her whole family," he said.
"I began gambling when I was still a primary school student as my father was also an addicted gambler. I learned from him," he said. "My mother attempted suicide three times because of my father's addiction to gambling."
Siu Yu-fat, 38, a restaurant worker who quit gambling two years ago, said he had lost more than $1.6 million due to his habit.
"I was born in a gambling family. Now I know it can ruin a family," he said.