Services aimed at helping gambling addicts are underfunded
Last month, the case of a Hong Kong mother who had left her young son at home while she went to Macau to gamble was widely reported. Shocking as it may have appeared to readers, it is not the first time such a case has been before the courts.
A Chinese University survey in 2006 found that many people's first encounter with gambling is through the casino.
The gaming industry, particularly in Macau, is high-profile and its multibillion-dollar advertising campaigns are difficult to ignore.
What they offer is attractive to many people who see the casino as a chance to change their lives through gaining instant wealth at the gaming tables. They construct for themselves a make-believe world of glitzy casinos, where drinks flow freely and entertainment abounds.
The advertising campaigns that promote this glamorous lifestyle are a form of brainwashing and a growing number of people who start to gamble lose self-control and squander their savings. This addiction can damage or even ruin relationships and they find themselves being pursued by creditors. Often, they try to recoup their losses by gambling even more and they are trapped in a vicious cycle.
What is so sad is that often these addicted gamblers do not want to admit they have a problem.
Very limited gambling counselling services are available in Hong Kong. I know of only three non-governmental organisations which offer them. Also, addicts can only get help if they contact a hotline.
Resources allocated to dealing with this problem are so meagre compared to the advertising budgets of the gaming industry, that it is really a David and Goliath scenario. Reading one of the NGO's websites, it appeared that it was seriously under-funded.
On every packet of cigarettes, there is a health warning. There are also concerted education campaigns against drug abuse and clinics to help drug addicts. The services available to problem gamblers are very limited by comparison.
Why does our society not speak out against what I would call casino hegemony? There is currently a debate about moral and national education.
I would like to see some form of moral education which emphasises that "money is not everything" and that an individual has a responsibility to nurture the self, the family and the society, as taught by Confucius.
L. Kwan, Tin Hau