What is problem gambling?

Most people gamble for fun and entertainment. Yet a small proportion does gamble to excess. The Study on Hong Kong People’s Participation in Gambling Activities commissioned by the Home Affairs Bureau in 2012, conducted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, found less than 2% of the local population could be considered as possible problem gamblers or possible pathological gamblers.

Any negative impact on an individual’s life caused by gambling may be construed as signs of problem gambling. This includes harm to one’s family, financial conditions, work performance, or mental and physical well-being. The most common symptoms of problem gambling are:

Gambling beyond one’s means, at the expense of meeting basic necessities; even using credit card or loans to gamble; or requiring monetary assistance of others because of gambling
Declining work performance and even causing absenteeism
Gambling more and more to chase losses
Lying about the gambling behaviour and the amount of money lost
Losing interest in family, friends and other non-gambling related matters, thus causing harm to family relationships
Failing to stop or cut down gambling in spite of repeated attempts
Neglecting everyday activities, and worst still, constantly thinking about gambling

What causes problem gambling?

High intensity forms of gambling that offers continuous play and rapid, repeated staking is a major cause of problem gambling behaviours. An obvious example is illegal online gambling games where access is possible seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Forms of gambling where credit is available are also highly conducive to problem gambling.

Other causes may include:

  • Myths such as “sure-win” formulas, or money lost can be won back if one gambles more
  • Problematic social life and lack of family support
  • Absence of life goals
  • Lack of other forms of entertainment, leading one to turn gambling into a habit
  • Use gambling as a means to escape personal problems or to relieve pressure
  • Family and peer influence

What are the effects of problem gambling?

The level of severity may vary among problem gamblers, but the harms their behaviour inflicted on their family relationships, financial conditions, work performance, as well as mental and physical health are just as profound. The adverse effects include:

  • Losing interest in social interaction, undermining personal relationships, and even losing the respect and trust of family and friends
  • Poor concentration that impact on learning ability and work performance, leading to absenteeism and even job loss
  • Deflating self esteem
  • Causing health issues, such as insomnia and loss of appetite
  • Inflicting mental problems, such as delirium and confusion
  • Resorting to illegal means to get money for gambling, such as taking out illegal loans or committing crimes

How to manage your gambling behaviour?

The great majority of people gamble in a controlled way as a form of entertainment. You can follow these useful tips to gamble in a responsible manner:

Don’t borrow to gamble, only place bets within your means
Set and stick to a budget
Set and stick to a time frame for gambling activities, take intermittent breaks
Don’t gamble more to chase losses
Treat gambling as a form of entertainment, not a means to make money
Balance gambling with other leisure activities
Don’t cover up or lie about your gambling behaviour