By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
While people all over the world get excited and are very much looking forward to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa that will be kicked off this Friday, problem gambling counsellors are worried about the emerge of football betting addiction in Macau.
Director of S.K.H. Counselling Service for Problem Gamblers, Seiko Lee Wai Wah, admitted to the Macau Daily Times that the World Cup is likely to intensify the situation of problem gambling in the territory.
In 2006 the last edition of the World Cup, S.K.H. (Sheng Kung Hui) did a research asking young people whether they had gambled during the tournament, and the result showed an upward trend when comparing with that in 2002.
Around 500 adolescents were interviewed and respectively in 2002 and 2006, 14 percent and 20.6 percent of them responded yes.
“With the World Cup approaching, there are more opportunities for no matter the youth or adults to participate in gambling,” Lee told the MDT.
This year, S.K.H. has changed the approach of the research in order to compare the gambling inclinations of locals from 13 to 29 years old between the non-World Cup period and during the World Cup tournament.
A telephone survey is being carried out right now asking people what they think about gambling and whether they have engaged in football betting. And after the World Cup ends, the respondents will be contacted again.
Lee said in Macau there is no data available concerning the number of problem gamblers who are under the influence of football betting.
Yet, among the 140 problem gamblers who are receiving counselling services from S.K.H., 92 percent gambled in casinos, 23.8 percent slot machines, 21.4 percent mahjong and then 17.5 percent sports betting.
“The figure [of sports betting] may not seem to be a lot but it still ranked fourth,” she said.
According to the certified gambling counsellor, in recent years football betting has become more prevalent in both Macau and Hong Kong. And she has highlighted some of the causes.
“Beside the atmosphere in bars and restaurants that could stimulate people’s emotions, the forms of football betting nowadays can make people gamble even with more money,” she explained.
“For example in the past, people could only bet on which team would win the championship and therefore they would only know the result at the end of the match, but nowadays people can place bets on which team is going to score the next goal during a match, among other many forms. These changes really pose a big impact on the problem.”
More attention needed
As such, Lee hoped that the Macau Government can pay more attention to problem gambling through introducing policies and community education.
“Young people perceive football betting as a means to get ‘quick money’. If community education is being done well, will their personal values be the same?” she pointed out.
Policies are also a key to help gamblers get out of the addiction.
The Government has been talking about raising the casino entry age limit to 21 and relocating slot machine venues from residential areas, but Lee said they are still being discussed and not many practical measures have been launched till now.
“The Government really has to catch up and pay more efforts.”
In South Korea, only one casino allows local residents to enter and each time when they go there they have to show their identity cards in order to keep a record, Lee recalled.
If it is found that they have entered the casino for over 15 times per month, they will no longer be allowed to set foot inside again.
“Problem gamblers are the ones that will go to casinos at any time whenever they want to gamble. If this kind of policies is in place, there is a possibility that people could be saved from turning into a problem gambler,” she said.
Although the whole economy of Macau heavily relies on the gaming industry, she stressed that it should not be an excuse for leaving the problem unaddressed.
“Macau is special… and so the Government has a lot of concerns, but it’s not a reason for not doing anything to control problem gambling.”
S.K.H has already launched a string of campaigns urging people not to gamble during the World Cup since May.
Of which, some football players from Hong Kong are invited to participate in a friendship match with Macau’s players at the D. Bosco Stadium on June 12 and an outdoor event will be held in the community to raise the public’s awareness of problem gambling on June 20.
Then on July 11,the Social Welfare Bureau, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau, the Sport Development Board and the Tertiary Education Services Office in conjunction with S.K.H. will organise an activity for both young people and their families to watch the live broadcast of the World Cup final match at the Tap Seac Pavilion together. During which smoking, gambling and foul language will be banned.
Lee said S.K.H. had co-organised the same activity in 2006 and over 1,000 people participated in it.
As it kicks off on Friday in South Africa when the host nation faces Mexico, the 2010 World Cup will mark a furious month of wagers between soccer fans across the globe. Oddsmakers from Vegas to Monte Carlo to Macau are open for business, whether at casinos or simply via online accounts, and billions of dollars will be at stake.
Macauslot, the only franchise holder to offer legitimate soccer and basketball betting in Macau, reportedly has been losing a significant amount of profit to illegal bookers over the years. Contacted by the MDT, the company’s sales and marketing manager Helen Poon declined to give any comments about the impact of side betting on their business or any other information relating to football betting since ‘it’s now a sensitive period”.
According to Macauslot’s website, it had over 100,000 registered members including 30,000 active betting members as of December 2003. Among them, 85 percent were from Hong Kong and Macau and 15 percent were from the overseas.
The then executive director of Macauslot, Dominic Kwok, had said in February 2008 that he believed more than MOP 6 billion was gambled on illegal sports betting websites in Macau each year.
He also estimated at that time that more than MOP 1 billion a year was bet with illegal bookmakers. “At least more than 20 times the turnover that we are doing is going to illegal bookmakers,” Kwok said.
“Theoretically we are the only ones to operate sports betting in Macau, but we have actually been competing for 10 years with the illegal bookie, especially on the Internet.”
While things look to be out of hand, the Unitary Police Service (SPU) said that they are looking closely into this problem. “We have been paying special attention to side betting, not only when there’s a major event like the World Cup,” a source from the Unitary Police Service told the Macau Daily Times.
Nevertheless, the source added that “there will be some joint operations during June and July,” requiring the collaboration of SPU, Judiciary Police and the Public Security Police. “We will be watching closely every move during these months, especially in some entertainment venues,” said the source, “online gambling will also be monitored.”
Interpol has been keeping a close eye…
Between May 1 and June 30, 2008 ahead of the UEFA Euro Championships, Interpol carried out a large-scale crackdown on Asian football betting syndicates in collaboration with police forces from several Asian countries including Macau, Hong Kong, mainland China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Operation SOGA II – short for soccer gambling – had resulted in more than 1,300 arrests and the seizure of over US$16 million. Law enforcement officers throughout the region raided 1,088 illegal gambling dens, many of which were controlled by organised crime gangs and were estimated to have handled nearly US$1.5 billion worth of bets.
Operation SOGA I was conducted in October and November 2007 and resulted in more than 400 arrests after raids on 272 illegal gambling dens including in Australia, mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau estimated to have handled more than US$680 million worth of bets. More than US$680,000 in cash and assets were seized, including computers, bank cards, mobile phones and cars.
Problem gamblers may contact:
S.K.H. (Sheng Kung Hui) Counselling Service for Problem Gamblers
Rua de Pedro Nolasco da Silva No. 55, Macau
Counselling hotline: 62408181 (Mondays to Wednesdays and Saturdays: 10am to 1pm, 2pm to 6pm; Thursdays and Fridays: 10am to 1pm, 2pm to 10pm)
The Resilience Centre – Problem Gambling Prevention and Treatment Centre (a facility owned by the Social Welfare Bureau)
Rua do Campo, No. 103, Edf. “Associação de Construtores Civis e Empresas de Fomento Predial”, 1/F, Flat B-D, Macau
Counselling hotline: 28323998 (Mondays to Thursdays: 9am to 1pm, 2.30pm to 5.45pm; Fridays: 9am to 1pm, 2.30pm to 5.30pm)
Macau Industrial Evangelistic Followship Centre
Rua Nova da Areia Preta, R/C A, Block 1, Edf. Nam Va San Chun, Macau
Counselling hotline: 66881354