Half of secondary students are gamblers, survey finds

Martin Wong

Half of secondary students under 18 - the legal age for betting - take a regular punt and almost 80 per cent of adults in Hong Kong engage in legal or illegal gambling, a survey has shown.

Academics from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who conducted the government-commissioned study - the first of its kind in the SAR - have warned that the Government should monitor youth gambling carefully. Yesterday, officials announced a two-week extension, to October 5, to the three-month consultation period on legalising soccer betting.

Dr Jimmy Wong Chi-tsing, a project fellow in the university's Centre for Social Policy Studies, said: 'We have found that youth participation in illegal gambling, especially soccer, is comparatively higher than the general population. We have also found that young people are more likely to become pathological gamblers.'

The survey interviewed more than 4,000 people, split into secondary students, the general public and a group of chronic gamblers. It found 78 per cent of the general public had taken part in at least one form of gambling. Mark Six was the most popular, with 64 per cent taking part, followed by mahjong and cards (46 per cent) and horse racing (30 per cent). Only 1.6 per cent in the general-public survey said they had bet on soccer. This study also found that 1.85 per cent of the respondents were potential pathological gamblers.

The school survey found the potential for pathological gambling among youngsters was higher, at 2.6 per cent. They were more prone to gambling on sports - 5.7 per cent bet on soccer and four per cent bet on ball games in general. Forty-nine per cent of secondary students interviewed had taken part in some form of gambling.

Fifty-one per cent of the general public agreed with legalising soccer gambling, while 36 per cent disagreed.

The academics said they could not draw a conclusion on the issue as it was a topic the public and the Government should discuss further.

Chung Kam-wah, an assistant professor with the university's Department of Applied Social Science, said if gambling laws were liberalised, the number of those taking part would rise.

Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs, admitted there was a lack of preventative measures concerning pathological and youth gambling.