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A forum on gambling addiction in London targets Chinese diaspora. Photo: Hilary Clarke

Why Chinese students are at risk of becoming gambling addicts in the UK

  • ‘They come to the UK, free, maybe a bit immature, and also lonely – that’s all the risk factors right there,’ says problem gambling specialist Edward Kwan

Chinese students heading to a UK university this autumn should be made aware of the risks posed by unfettered access to casinos and online gaming, according to Hong Kong’s first certified counsellor for gambling addiction.

“It can be like a parachutist landing in a minefield, especially for students who are the product of China’s former one-child policy,” said Edward Kwan, who was a Hong Kong police officer for 30 years.

Kwan, who has been providing consultation and counselling on gambling since 1997, spoke to South China Morning Post in London.

“They come to the UK, free, maybe a bit immature, and also lonely – that’s all the risk factors right there,” Kwan said of the foreign students.

“The UK has hundreds of casinos – it is unlikely Chinese students would not come into contact with one.”

China is already the biggest source of international students in British universities. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency there were 43,530 Chinese students in the UK in the year 2007-2008 compared to 106,530 in 2017-2018.


Applications from Chinese students to study at UK universities in 2019 rose 30 per cent since last year, partly because of the China-US trade war.

Edward Kwan on gambling addiction: ‘Chinese students face adaptation and loneliness problems especially for those born during the one-child policy of China’. Photo: Handout

The UK also has one of the most available gambling industries in the world with an estimated 24 million people regularly enjoying a punt, according to the Gambling Commission.

British gamblers are now losing almost twice as much to the betting companies as they were a decade ago. Last year, gamblers lost a record £14.5 billion (US$17.6 billion).

Although young people tend to bet less than the middle-aged – Kwan said students can be at risk, especially when they are far from home.

The emotional downside to studying in the UK for Chinese students

And while with other addictions the signs are more quickly apparent to parents, “gambling is an invisible addiction – more of a process than substance abuse”.


Parents often do not know the cost of living in the UK and may not realise if their son or daughter’s requests for more cash are due to gambling problems.

British universities tend to spend a lot of resources on attracting foreign students to their campuses, but less on their welfare once they have arrived, with students often left to their own devices.


“The term I would use is customer or consumer protection. When they (the students) come to the UK they should be the responsibility of the host,” Kwan said.

The Hippodrome Casino in London. Photo: Hilary Clarke

The UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) is aware of the problem of gambling among students generally and earlier this year called for academic institutions to do more to raise awareness.


A study commissioned by the NUS and the UK government’s Gambling Commission which regulates the industry, found that three out of five students had gambled during the past six months.

The study also found that between August 2018 and February this year, one in eight had bet more than they could afford to lose.

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“For those who have experienced problems with mental health when gambling, the most common feelings are of stress and feeling depressed,” the NUS said.


According to research published last year by Bright Futures – a group of academics in Britain, Germany and China – 16 per cent of Chinese studying in the UK showed signs of “severe distress”, meaning depression.

This compared with 10 per cent of Chinese students at home, according to the study based on a survey of 5,610 undergraduates and postgraduates in Britain and China.

“Like other international students, Chinese students face adaptation and loneliness problems especially for those born during the one-child policy of China,” Kwan said.

“Compared to other Asian students like Singapore and Malaysia which had been British colonies, Chinese students’ English standard could hinder their adaptation into the English context – and peer influences could be a risk factor to gambling in social interactions.”

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Chinese students are more likely to go to casinos because of the social experience, Kwan said.

Gambling has long been a problem in London’s Chinatown where restaurant workers often gather in betting shops to place a bet in between the lunch and evening service.

Kwan, who travels widely consulting and counselling on problem gambling issues in the Chinese diaspora, was in London to present his PhD on the family victims of severe gambling addiction.

There are at least four casinos in the vicinity of London’s Chinatown.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Chinese going to universities in UK face betting ‘minefield’