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SHA's speech at Inaugural Asian Pacific Problem Gambling Conference (English only)

    Following is a speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Ho, at the opening ceremony of the Inaugural Asian Pacific Problem Gambling Conference today (November 23): (English only)

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     I take pleasure in attending this Inaugural Asian Pacific Problem Gambling Conference, organised by the Even Centre of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, because it gives me with an opportunity to emphasise the urgency accorded to this topic by the Hong Kong Government.

     We regard problem gambling as an important issue that both demands and receives our serious attention. It is a problem that affects not only the individuals concerned, but also their families and the society in which they live.

     Indeed, we believe we should tackle problem gambling as a social issue. For in order to help the immediate victims of this pathological disease, we need the understanding and co-operation of their families and friends as well as of the community as a whole.

     While lesser forms of gambling have been a popular diversion for many Hong Kong people over a very long period of time, most of us have avoided the excesses that result from the compulsive behavioural patterns that afflict the unfortunate few.

     Nevertheless many of us can identify, among our associates, friends or perhaps even family members, certain individuals who have been unable to exercise that restraint and moderation which limit the majority of us to the "occasional flutter". And it is these who are in need of our help - not to meet the debts they have accumulated but to conquer the addiction to which they have succumbed.

     Happily, problem gambling has been receiving increasing public attention in Hong Kong in recent years, and as a result has generated both growing concern and more focused resolve to tackle its roots.

     Until just recently, there had not been any formal research into why and how people encounter problems when participating in gambling. The extent to which these problems were affecting our society as a whole, and the fears they had provoked, were brought to light in the public arena some two to three years ago, in the midst of a heated public debate on authorisation of football betting.

     It was in the context of this public debate that many concerned organisations started to advocate the introduction of measures to alleviate gambling-related problems, and to urge that research be conducted into the extent of the problems associated with gambling in Hong Kong.

     In 2001, the Government commissioned the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to conduct a benchmark survey of Hong Kong People's Participation in Gambling Activities.

     This was not only the first large-scale investigation of our society's gambling behaviour, but also the first to examine the extent of gambling-related problems in Hong Kong.

     The survey results revealed that around 1.85% of our adult population, numbering some 90,000 people in all, showed signs of being pathological gamblers, while another 4%, or 200,000 people, were inclined to be problem gamblers.

     This prevalence rate is comparable to that in many other jurisdictions where various forms of authorised gambling activities are available. Nevertheless, the figures demonstrated the need to address gambling-related problems in Hong Kong.

     In 2003, the Government set up the Ping Wo Fund for the purpose of financing measures to address gambling-related problems. This was the first time that any kind of programme to tackle gambling-related problems had been publicly supported and treated with a co-ordinated approach.

     The Ping Wo Fund is a dedicated fund with financial contribution from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and it also accepts public donations. Its major objective is to finance research on gambling-related issues, to instigate preventive education on gambling-related problems as well as to pursue remedial measures to help problem gamblers and their dependants.

     The Jockey Club undertook to provide $24 million in the first two years and $12-15 million each year for the next three years. The Ping Wo Fund Advisory Committee advises the Government on the operation and use of the Fund.

     This committee consists of professionals from many different fields, concerned with aspects such as mental health, psychology, education, social sciences, accounting, law as well as business, all aimed at enabling the Committee to tackle issues from different perspectives.

     Over the last two years, the Ping Wo Fund has financed a series of measures to address gambling-related problems. It has provided funding to set up two dedicated counselling and treatment centres for problem and pathological gamblers on a pilot basis for three years.

     The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Even Centre, which is organising the conference today, is currently running one of these two centres.

     The Fund has also supported an independent study to evaluate the effectiveness of the services provided by these two centres, with a view to devising a service model most appropriate for Hong Kong in the longer term.

     On the public education front, the Fund has been financing a number of measures to enhance public awareness of the inherent risks of gambling and how to prevent gambling-related problems, with particular emphasis on young people.

     In 2003, we launched the "Say No to Gambling Action" - an educational campaign conducted through an on-line portal accessing gambling-related educational materials, and directed at youths studying in primary and secondary schools.

     We have also been producing TV and radio commercials, TV docu-dramas, posters, and banners to increase public understanding of gambling-related problems.

     As regards research, again, with financial support from the Fund, we have commissioned another survey of the latest developments regarding Hong Kong people's participation in gambling activities, following upon the first benchmark study conducted in 2001.  

     This conference, which brings us together today, is sponsored by the Ping Wo Fund, and provides another example of how the Fund supports the organisation of activities on measures to tackle gambling-related problems.

     I am happy to see that we have convened a very good platform for many organisations and individuals concerned with this issue, affording us the chance to exchange views and experience.

     More importantly, we are privileged to share this discourse with internationally renowned academics and professionals, who can enlighten us on the latest developments on the global scale.

     Apart from service models, and the best available practices for treatment of problem gamblers, this conference will also discuss the experience of other countries that have been formulating responsible gambling policies and preventive measures to tackle gambling-related problems.

     Hong Kong has only recently made a headstart in getting to grips with its own gambling-related problems, so this conference comes at a timely juncture. We look to it to provide us with valuable insight into how best to address and alleviate problems associated with gambling in Hong Kong.

     In regard to the latter, I should like to contribute one observation touching upon how the problem relates to our own social context. Because of the extended family system still applicable to so many in our Hong Kong society, problem gambling has implications that can weigh upon a wider circle of our community.

     Those indebted as a result of this affliction may seek help not only from their immediate family members but also their extended family, which can produce a ripple effect ranging beyond the extent to which it may involve victims in other communities.

     But at the same time this extended family system offers benefits as well, for it provides psychological support and the possibilities of a collective response to the problem.

     It has been said that we Chinese are genetically disposed towards gambling. I would prefer to phrase it another way. I believe we are genetically disposed towards risk-taking, which might have its drawbacks but also has its strengths.

    Indeed I will go so far as to contend that calculated risk-taking has been the backbone of our entrepreneurial genius. Were we never to have grasped the wider possibilities of the farther horizons, we would never have seized the greater goals that have made us who we are today.

     So I put it to you that gambling and risk-taking are two sides of the same coin. I will only stress that the latter should be prefixed by the word "calculated" because it is always crucial to distinguish the risk to be taken, always vital to look before one leaps.

     Most important, we must ensure that when we succumb to the urge to flip that coin, we should take care that it lands the right way up - heads rather than tails.

     Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to close by thanking the Even Centre and all the co-organising agencies for their tremendous effort in paving the way for this conference, and by wishing the conference itself every success.

Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Issued at HKT 12:12


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