48pc of students have placed bets, with family and peer influence blamed Almost half of all secondary school pupils have gambled, and the average age they placed their first bet was 12, according to a survey. The Chinese Young Men's Christian Association, which conducted the survey, found that the most popular forms for gambling were mahjong and cards, followed by betting on soccer matches and the Mark Six lottery. The association interviewed 1,122 youngsters, aged from 12 to 18, from 27 secondary schools in January and February. The study found 48 per cent had tried gambling - 32 per cent in the past three months - with 12 the average age for a first bet. Of respondents who had recently placed their first bet, nearly 50 per cent said they considered it entertainment and 42 per cent said they gambled because their families drew them in. About 30 per cent said peer influence was responsible. One Form Six student said he spent a third of his pocket money betting on soccer. 'I always remember how much I win and the happiness and excitement just keeps me going. I believe that I can win back what I have lost one day. And I will keep on betting,' he said. The association estimated from its survey that about 4,700 young people in Hong Kong have either become or are potential gambling addicts in Hong Kong. They defined someone as a potentially addictive gambler if they answered agreed with four or more of 12 statements. Some of the statements were: you want to gamble or plan to gamble all the time; you tend to increase your betting pool chips; you spend more money gambling than planned. Freedom Leung Yiu-kin, associate professor of the Psychology Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who conducted the study, said family habits were the main reason young people started to gamble. 'As the results showed, family influence is the greatest for first-time gamblers. Parents first introduce gambling to their children. They play mahjong and ask their children to take over for a while for them, while they go to the toilet or do chores. It is a common scene in Hong Kong families,' he said. Dr Leung estimated about 6 per cent of the population were addicted to gambling. 'Investment in the property market, stock market and foreign currencies is all about gambling, which is often regarded as a test of vision. It has become more accepted nowadays,' he said. Chinese University psychiatry professor Lee Sing blamed the 'normalisation' of gambling in society for encouraging young addicts. 'The legalisation of soccer gambling and the call for a casino in Hong Kong, borrowing the idea from Macau, lowers the public's caution against youth gambling. Gambling is like part of our daily life now.'