Counting the true costs of Macau’s casinos and the misery they cause
Three friends of mine lost their life savings and their souls to gambling and they all took their own lives.
Their tragedies are the tip of an iceberg and the facts are kept from the public about how serious this problem has become.
Sometimes, when I am on a bus in Macau, I have overheard gamblers from Hong Kong and the mainland talking, saying they will have sell the property they own to pay off their debts to loan sharks. They curse the gaming operators for the businesses they run.
I think gambling is an evil business that can destroy people’s lives. Once people become addicted, it wrecks homes and marriages. Despite the harm it does, it attracts men and women from all walks of life. They are drawn to the casino floor even though their chances of winning are minimal.
Even if someone wins and keeps winning over a short period of time, statistics show that they will start losing again and stand to lose everything if they have become addicted.
My advice to people is simply not to start gambling, so you do not expose yourself to the risks of developing a problem. It worries me that in Macau, the gaming industry is often disguised as being a positive form of entertainment.
Gaming tycoons will argue that if you can control your gambling, it can help you relax. You seldom see any stories in the local media warning of the negative side of gambling and certainly not in media outlets which are dominated by the government. There is nothing about the traumatic effect of being caught up in a spiral of addiction. Instead, we see articles about the growth of gross domestic product and how this has a lot to do with the success of the gaming industry.
It is important to realise that when someone is gripped by this addiction, they are not the only people who suffer. Family members are often threatened by loan sharks. Macau’s six casino licences [or concessions] are due for renewal.
We should ask if it is now a good time to reduce the number of these licences? While I think this should be considered, I am not optimistic the government will do so. Given that it derives so much tax revenue from the gaming industry, it will be reluctant to see the industry shrink.
Barnaby Ieong, Macau