The Executive Council this month approved five more local race days, bringing the total to 83 next season, and a rise in the simulcasts of overseas race meetings, from 10 to 25. The increase sparked concerns of an increase in gambling-associated problems. CityChat talks to two former gambling addicts.
Yeung Tsz-tung, 59, started gambling when he was seven. 'I gambled for 50 years and even worked at the casinos in Macau for 11 years. But then I quit gambling and I am now a fortune teller. I lived in Sai Ying Pun and gambled in the street when I was seven. When I was in secondary school, I played poker with my friends. I dropped out of school in Form Two when I was 14 1/2. By then I knew how to play all the common games like poker and mahjong.
'Later I worked at a mahjong parlour in Yau Ma Tei and casinos in Macau. There were no other jobs suitable for me at that time. I started at the mahjong parlour in 1986. During my three years there I met a lot of people who also gambled in Macau and they introduced me to work at casinos.
'I worked and lived at the casinos in Macau for 11 years. I concentrated so hard on the work that I didn't know when it was day or night. I did not even know the date or time. I would not go outside for more than 10 days at a time. Although I got married, I only saw my wife one to two days in a month at most - and sometimes only once in several months. I once ran up debts of HK$3 million and had to pay HK$7,500 interest per day. But working at the casino I was able to pay the amount back in seven and a half months.
'In 1994, a terrible thing happened. I and two colleagues were sent to Hainan to get a customer to return HK$400,000 he owed the casino. When we arrived at his office, someone pointed a gun at us and told us to leave our home-return permits with them. One of my colleagues wet himself. But in the end we returned to Macau safely.
'The life at the casinos was a nightmare. I lived it until the middle of 1997, when I returned to Hong Kong. I still kept gambling. But my life changed dramatically in 2001. I was 51, and decided I did not want to live the rest of my life as a gambler. So I became a fortune teller. I was still gambling, but about three years ago I decided I really wanted to quit because I thought it was stopping me from being a good fortune teller. So in August of 2006, I went to the Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Centre. I have not gambled for almost three years.
'Looking back, I lost at least HK$10 million in 50 years. I heard of a rise in the number of race days. The move could create jobs, but could lead more people to gamble. The losses are larger than the gains.'
Li Kin-yip, 44, gambled for 19 years before he quit in 2002. 'I started playing mahjong when I was in Primary Six. When I was 18, I started work as a storekeeper at a garment company. All my colleagues were male and most of us liked gambling. We played mahjong together four days a week after work. I also liked betting on horse races and became addicted.
'For 19 years, I could not stop thinking of horse racing. I heard my elder brother won HK$400,000 on races in 1995 and I always thought of winning a lot, like him. I started betting a few hundred dollars but my bets increased to tens of thousands of dollars.
'The most serious situation was 1999 to 2001. I spent most of my time at the racecourse and bet on most races. I treated horse racing as my job. I started borrowing money to gamble about 18 years ago. But in 2000 I experienced my hardest time. I was not able to repay my losses or loans to the bank and finance company - about HK$1.5 million. I went bankrupt and sold my home in 2002. In total, I lost HK$3 million in the past 19 years - enough to buy a flat.
'My wife threatened divorce if I did not stop gambling. She found counselling information from the Hong Kong Gamblers Recovery Centre and I have had counselling sessions regularly since 2002. I realised I really hurt my family, so I quit gambling. But sometimes the temptation gets very strong. One day on a bus, I heard someone talking about horse racing. I wanted to gamble again. My mind was full of racing. But I kept praying and luckily won that struggle.