People who bet on soccer matches start doing so at a younger age than other types of gamblers and may be better educated. Those are among the findings of an analysis of more than 6,000 gamblers who have sought help from three Christian gambling rehabilitation centres since 2003.
An alliance which carried out the study is now calling for the legal minimum age for soccer betting to be raised from 18 to 21 in order to reduce teenage gambling, saying soccer lures more people into placing their first bet than any other sport.
The alliance urged the government to regulate the Jockey Club's advertising following the model of regulation of cigarette advertising, and also called for the Jockey Club to make public the number of betting accounts opened by 18-year-olds so that the issue can be properly studied.
The alliance of the gambling rehab centres and several other Christian groups fears that more youngsters will be tempted to place their first bet for the World Cup, which starts in June.
Some 70 per cent of the soccer gamblers began betting before the age of 20, compared to about 41 per cent of those who engage in other types of gambling, the survey found.
About 18 per cent started betting on soccer between the ages of 11 and 15, twice the proportion of other gamblers.
The study found soccer gamblers spent longer in formal education, with 14 per cent having graduated from university and 77 per cent who completed secondary education. That is compared to some 10 per cent and 62 per cent respectively for other gamblers.
Andy, a gambling addict for 20 years who at one time had accumulated debts of HK$2 million due to betting on soccer, said it could be hard to spot an addict. "Watching soccer matches in itself is perfectly normal," he said, adding that it took just a few minutes to place a bet.
Having started betting on high-profile football matches when he was in Form Three, the college graduate said the festive atmosphere of such big clashes could be hard to resist.
"The World Cup atmosphere makes you feel you want to be part of it, which may tempt youngsters to place their first bet," said the 38-year-old, who quit gambling four years ago after his family sent him to rehab.
Another former football gambler, Kenny, said peer pressure during his work as a pastry apprentice had led him to the habit.
"At some points, I would rather not eat than not gamble. I spent HK$6,000 every month on soccer matches which was about half of my monthly salary then," said the 30-year-old, who quit gambling four years ago.