Addiction experts want to set up a gamblers' anonymous support group to help compulsive punters quit or at least control the habit. Professor Leslie Lo Nai-kwai, director of the Chinese University's Institute of Educational Research, said gambling was one of the most prevalent addictions in Hong Kong yet few people recognised it as such. The institute has invited two Canadian specialists to present the latest research on the addiction on Friday. 'It's shocking that Hong Kong has no services available for the many people who suffer from this problem,' he said. 'Hong Kong is very far behind in this area despite its enormous financial resources.' Professor Lo said as there was a complete lack of research and public interest on the issue, the scale of the problem in the SAR was difficult to estimate. Researchers at the Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital in Illinois estimate that three per cent of US adults will experience gambling addiction sometime in their lives. The American Psychiatric Association classifies compulsive gambling as a pathological condition stemming from the lack of impulse control. Addicts go through three phases, starting on a winning spree, then moving on to the losing phase that ends in desperation. The last phase can end in significant debt, family disruption, job losses, crime or suicide. Professor Lo said addicts could readily recognise their symptoms. 'A gambling addict is distinguished from the average punter by his need to gamble even when he has no time or money to place bets,' he said. Such a person may experience physical conditions such as an increased heartbeat and sweating when he cannot gamble. Professor Lo believed the most effective and cost-saving treatment was for gamblers themselves to set up a self-help group, but the public had to be educated about the problem first. The Samaritans supports the setting up of a gamblers' anonymous group. Tibor Barsony, the founder of the Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling, and Patrick Au, the executive director of Chinese Family Life Services in Toronto, will speak at Chinese University on Friday.