Slot machines are the 'crack cocaine' of all casino games

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2001, 12:00am

We refer to the column by Albert Cheng, headlined 'Viva Las Hong Kong' (South China Morning Post, November 15).

We welcome the debate on gaming in Hong Kong. As Mr Cheng pointed out, it is hypocritical of the anti-gambling coalition to oppose the broadening of legal gaming operations in the SAR, when we already have widespread betting on horse racing and the Mark Six.

Once you approve of one form of legalised gaming, there is no justification for objecting to another form, simply on moral grounds. Whether one bets on two horses, picks six numbers out of 47, or tries to guess which football team will win, it makes no difference - it is all gambling.

Where Mr Cheng is wrong is in his suggestion that the introduction of slot machines into Hong Kong would be a form of 'soft' gambling. Because of their easy accessibility and low betting denominations, slot machines have been known as the 'crack cocaine' of all games. Vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women, and teenagers, are particularly drawn to slot machines and are more likely to become addicted than other sections of the community. Experiences in Australia and the US also suggest that slot machines have a greater negative social impact than other casino games.

We completely disagree with Mr Cheng's suggestion that a bridge between Hong Kong and Macau would 'add colour to the experience of both leisure and business travellers'. With the bridge built, Macau, with its expansion of gaming operations, would become the Las Vegas of the Orient. It would receive all the benefits of the bridge, including luring Hong Kong residents and visitors. Hong Kong, where the gamblers live, would suffer most from the social and economic costs of gambling.

What Hong Kong needs is a world-class facility run by a reputable organisation with professional gaming management experience. A government-affiliated gaming commission would need to work closely with the operator to minimise the negative social impact. The necessary support structure would have to be provided to deal with the social problems that would arise in the SAR.

We do realise that this is a complicated issue, and everyone has a different opinion. We hope the debate will continue.