Hong Kong’s problem gambling rate continues to decline, adding weight to earlier findings that societies tend to adapt over time to the expansion of gambling options.
A new study by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University into gambling participation rates by Hong Kong residents showed 61.5% engaged in some form of gambling in 2016, down from 62.3% in the 2012 study and well off the 77.8% peak way back in 2001.
Hong Kong has a limited number of legal gambling options, which basically consist of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s horserace, football and Mark Six lottery betting. Mark Six was by far the most popular betting option in 2016 at 54.9% participation, followed by social gambling (mahjong, poker) at 31.6%, horserace betting (12.5%) and football betting (6.6%).
A further 8.4% of Hong Kong residents copped to travelling to Macau to gamble at its casinos, while 0.6% opted to take a ride on one of the casino cruise ships that dock in Hong Kong.
While police actions routinely demonstrate that Hong Kong residents aren’t afraid to explore unapproved gaming options ranging from clandestine gambling dens to international online gambling sites, only 0.5% of the study’s 1,258 respondents admitted participating in illegal gambling.
This 0.5% may have misunderstood the question (or were simply afraid to admit it), as 1% of study participants reported gambling online, which the study defines as being done outside the legal HKJC options. The online prevalence number is down from 1.2% in 2012 and well back of 2001’s 4.6%. ‘Online game involving money’ was the clear favorite at 69.2% participation, followed by online casinos (26.9%) and non-football betting (3.8%).
Of those who gambled online, “simple gamble rule/format” was the primary motivator, followed by the absence of time constraints, a wider variety of gambling options, attractive bonus offers and the lack of need to travel to a gambling venue.
Participation stats may have been down from 2012, but average monthly spending on gambling was on the rise in 2016. Marx Six betting was up 1.2x to HKD 160 (US $20.60), social gambling rose 1.4x to HKD 424, race betting shot up 5.9x to HKD 5,610 while football betting rose 2.6x to HKD 1,600 (the latter figure influenced by the Euro 2016 tournament).
PROBLEM GAMBLING ON THE WANE
The number of Hong Kong gamblers showing indications of potential gambling disorders was also on the decline, falling from 2% in 2012 to 1.4% last year. A study spokesperson credited the continued decline to “publicity and education efforts as well as other alleviating measures implemented by the government.”
Perhaps the most encouraging sign in the current study was the reduction in gambling prevalence among Hong Kong’s youth. Secondary school students recorded a 33.5% gambling participation rate in 2012, but this fell to 21.8% in 2016. Youth problem gambling rates also fell from 3.2% in 2012 to just 0.7% last year.
Numerous studies have demonstrated a phenomenon that researchers refer to as “adaptability,” i.e. problem gambling rates tend to spike following the initial introduction of gambling or the expansion of gambling options in a particular market, but the numbers eventually level off and begin to decline as the population grows more accustomed to gambling availability.