By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
A 2010 survey has found that there are now more pathological gamblers in Macau compared to three years ago, but a local scholar said the increase has already been controlled within a certain range.
The Social Welfare Bureau (IAS) last year commissioned the University of Macau’s Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming to carry out research investigation into locals’ participation in gambling activities.
The bureau’s acting president, Iong Kong Io, said on a radio program last Friday that the study showed that there was a “slight increase” in the number of pathological gamblers in the territory when compared to that reported in the same study conducted in 2007.
Iong did not disclose the specific figures, but added that the bureau’s Resilience Centre that provides problem gambling counselling services also reported an “upward trend” in the number of people seeking help last year.
The research carried out in 2003 (before the liberalisation of the gaming industry) and then in 2007 found that respectively 1.78 percent and 2.6 percent of the Macau population could have already become pathological gamblers.
Director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming, Davis Fong Ka Chio told the Macau Daily Times yesterday that the increased percentage in 2010 met the “current situation” of the SAR.
He said the institute has signed an agreement with the IAS in which only the bureau itself is able to release any results or figures of the survey to the public.
The scholar admitted that work on responsible gambling has “just started” in Macau, and there is a “very long way to go, at least 10 to 20 years” until it may be able to succeed in bringing the city back to the “pre-liberalisation condition” where pathological gamblers accounted for less than 2 percent of the population.
The US and Canada, for example, have already implemented the campaigns for more than a decade, Fong said. Since the effects of responsible gambling programs cannot be seen instantly, “there is still a lot of things that Macau can do”.
However, Fong said it was “inevitable” that Macau started late to develop responsible gambling in society.
“People only became more concerned about gambling’s impact on the community after the industry was liberalised and the academic field then started to study this problem. But there is a process until specific measures can eventually be rolled out,” he told the MDTimes.
He stressed that, nevertheless, it is “unrealistic” to expect that Macau will no longer have pathological gamblers the day after measures are introduced.
In the meantime, what the Macau Government should do is to “try their best” to limit the number of pathological gamblers within a certain range, according to the scholar.
“We’re talking about the education for a whole generation in the next 10 to 20 years. Young people and students need to understand correctly what gambling and responsible gambling are, and what attitude they should hold in order to live in an environment surrounded by casinos,” he pointed out.
“When time goes by, we hope that the situation of problem gambling can be improved.”
Yet, Fong said currently the effort has started to show some effectiveness and the growth of new pathological gambling cases has been “under control”.
He revealed that local residents’ participation rate in gaming activities has dropped from 66 percent to about 50 percent in 2010, suggesting that “the chance of locals turning into problem/pathological gamblers has also been reduced”.
Meanwhile, the IAS acting chief said last week that although the situation had not notably worsened, the bureau will continue to reinforce prevention, publicity and education work in the community, and also to help residents build awareness of financial management.