An increasing number of middle-aged housewives and mothers are turning to gambling to compensate for a lack of attention at home, according to the city's first pathological gambling treatment centre. 'There is an obvious upward trend in pathological female gamblers over the past year and a half, particularly among middle-aged housewives and mothers who have no gambling records and were never interested in it before, other than just playing mahjong,' said Mira Chen Mei-wah, a counsellor at the Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Centre. The centre, which opened in October 2003, has treated 798 addicts. Of these, 10 per cent were women. The number of women patients has jumped four-fold in 17 months, from 13 in December 2003 to 88 last month. About 20 new cases register every three months. Ms Chen, who usually treats women at the centre, said middle-aged women gambled because they did not know how to handle free time and boredom, while others used gambling to escape from frustration in marriage. 'Chinese tradition has placed family on top of everything. A couple, especially the mother, would have devoted most of their life to raising their children,' she said. 'When their children grow up, marry and leave the family, the parents lose the focus of their family life. Some women realise they didn't give enough time to get to know their husbands over the years and find it hard to communicate with them, and [they] argue more often. 'Other women gamble because they lack attention from their husbands who may be having an affair. They don't have anyone to talk to at home, so they turn to make new friends who are gamblers as well. Some simply seek revenge against their husband by gambling the husband's money.' Ms Chen said women were generally not interested in betting on horses, football, Mark Six or poker. Instead, they travelled in groups with friends to gamble in casinos and on cruise ships, where much higher bets are required. In one case, a wife who suspected her husband was having an affair while they were on a holiday in Macau stormed out of their hotel and lost $1.5 million in two days. Other patients had accumulated up to $3 million in debts, Ms Chen said. These women have usually exhausted their life savings and are often in debt to loansharks, while some take unskilled jobs to help clear their debts, she added. 'Men are easier to handle. They gamble because they want to win money, and they believe gambling means winning money,' she said. 'Women usually have more complicated motives that often entangle psychological and emotional issues. It takes more time to untie that ... to take their mind off what is bothering them.'