Study shows strong correlation between gambling, suicide

Thursday, April 23, 2009
Issue 680, Page 5
Word count: 798
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

A research done by the Hong Kong Caritas found that one out of every four gamblers will have a suicidal tendency and may even end their lives together with their families.

The findings were showed based on the 1,645 gamblers selected from the 2,564 people who came to the Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Centre for assistance from October 2003 to March 2009.

Although the data were collected from Hong Kong residents, the counselling centre social work supervisor Joe Tang told the Macau Daily Times that the results still have a “significant reference value for Macau.”

He cited the suicide case occurred in Macau on April 6, in which a 39-year-old mother who suspected of having a gaming debt problem killed herself and her 13-year-old daughter at home by burning charcoal.

No such research has even been done in Macau because Tang said not many gamblers will seek help from the four local counselling centres.

However, he warned that it is essential to look at the suicide issue and obtain relevant data in running counselling services for problem gamblers.

In Hong Kong, the social worker said their approach is usually to directly ask the gamblers whether they have thought of ending their lives.

If the answer is yes, he said the centre will first take care of the person’s suicidal thought and temporarily put aside the gambling problem.

“If a life cannot be kept, there is nothing else you can do to help them,” he added.

In addition, Tang said from the research findings, it could be inferred that the situation in Macau might be even more alarming.

The University of Chicago in 1999 did a national research which found that residents who lived within 50 kilometres from a casino would be more vulnerable to become problem gamblers.

According to Tang, the two key elements of gambling are “accessibility” and “availability”.

“These assure people of convenience to visit casinos which run for 24 hours and thus satisfy their desires,” he said.

“But some people can’t control their behaviours and keep gambling for whatever they have. That’s why over 80 percent of the Macau government tax revenue come from the gaming industry,” he added.

Findings

Among the 1,645 gamblers who had been studied, 88 percent or 1,447 were males.

Most of them aged 30 to 49, with two at and below 18 years old.

A large part of the gamblers had been participating in various gaming activities for 21 to 30 years, and they usually started it between 16 and 20 years old and owed a debt of HKD100,001 to HKD200,000.

More than half of the gamblers, or 839, went to Macau casinos to gamble, followed by horse racing, football racing, mahjong and financial investment.

According to the report, those who participated in casino, horse and football gaming are more prone to have debt problems.

In addition, 14.2 percent or 233 of the total gamblers who were addicted to casino gambling had had a suicidal thought.

Of them, 79 even decided the way of how to kill themselves, and 37 took the action but were saved.

Tang said the strong association between casino gambling and suicide was attributable to the  presence of loan-sharking in casinos, which could make the problem worse when debts accumulated.

“When the moneylender comes to collect the debts, it will cause the gambler’s family to panic. The gambler will be disappointed at himself and feel guilty to their family. The internal and external pressure would drive them to end their lives,” he added.

The clinical counselling experience also found that people who are fond of visiting casinos will have a higher tendency to have debt problems with a relatively larger amount, and thus will be more vulnerable to choose to kill themselves.

Despite a majority of gamblers are males, female gamblers are usually more prone to come across the idea of suicide and have a higher “action rate”.

Tang told the MDTimes that most of the females go to gamble because they want to escape from “life pressure and inharmonious relationships with spouses, families or friends”.

However, the negative consequences brought by gambling might not be accepted by their families and eventually may lead to a suicide attempt, he said.

On the other hand, the statistics indicated that nine gamblers had thought of killing themselves as well as their partners or children together.

Two of them took the action but fortunately their lives were saved.

The Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Centre urges the financial institutes to cautiously approve credit cards and loans applications in order to avoid gamblers from owing excessive debts.

Also, it says that the government should put in more resources to set up a gambling rehabilitation service fund so as to help more gamblers with suicidal tendency and provide counselling to their families.

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