LCQ17: Curbing the problem of youth gambling

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (March 29):


     A survey conducted in recent months has found that secondary school students first placed their bets at an average age of 8.1 years only, and that there is a downward trend in the age of young people participating in gambling.  Moreover, about 65% of the respondents indicated that they were first exposed to and learned about gambling activities through their parents.  Regarding curbing the problem of youth gambling, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows, in each of the past five years, (i) the respective numbers of calls for assistance received by the four counselling and treatment centres for problem and pathological gamblers operated by non-governmental organisations, and (ii) the respective numbers of new cases in which face-to-face counselling or treatment services were provided by these centres to people seeking assistance;

(2) given that the legal gambling age is set at 21 in the neighbouring countries and regions such as Singapore, Malaysia and Macau, whether the Government has any plan to raise the legal gambling age in Hong Kong from 18 to 21, so as to curb the problem of gambling addiction among young people; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) whether it will add contents about the harms of gambling to the relevant primary and secondary school curricula, and openly call for parents to set a good example and not to allow their children to participate in gambling activities, so as to prevent them from becoming addicted to gambling; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) whether it will step up its publicity and educational efforts to make it easier for gamblers and their family members to become aware of the problem and pathological gambling behaviours and to seek assistance as early as possible;

(5) whether it has reviewed if the counselling, treatment and other services provided for problem and pathological gamblers at present are effective in helping them quit gambling; if it has, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) whether it will inject part of the betting duty collected into the Ping Wo Fund managed by the Home Affairs Bureau to enhance the implementation of measures to prevent and alleviate problems relating to gambling; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     It is the Government's policy not to encourage gambling as addiction to gambling could cause harms to individuals and to the society.  However, we understand that there is a certain demand for gambling in the society and it is a pragmatic approach to allow a limited number of authorised gambling channels.

     The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) attaches great importance to the prevention and alleviation of gambling-related problems, and has adopted a multi-pronged strategy including regulation through legislation, law enforcement against illegal gambling, public education on the harms of gambling addiction and provision of counselling and treatment services to people in need.

     To finance preventive and remedial measures for problems caused by gambling, the Government established the Ping Wo Fund (the Fund) in 2003.  The Fund provides sponsorship for (1) researches and studies into the issues and problems relating to gambling; (2) public education and other measures to prevent and alleviate problems relating to gambling; and (3) counselling, treatment and other support services for gamblers with gambling disorder and those affected by them.

     The Government has all along paid close attention of the prevalence of gambling activities among Hong Kong people.  In 2016, the Fund commissioned the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to conduct a new round of study.  The findings of the study will soon be released. 

     On the questions raised by Dr Hon Chiang, the reply is as follows:

(1) & (5) The services currently provided by the four counselling and treatment centres financed by the Fund include telephone counselling, face-to-face counselling, mutual help groups and psychiatric treatment in serious cases.  Gamblers with gambling disorder and their family members can call the gambling counselling hotline (183 4633) to immediately receive preliminary counselling services.

     In the past five years, the number of enquiries received by the four centres via the Fund's hotline and the number of beneficiaries receiving counselling and treatment services provided by the four centres are tabulated below:
  Number of enquiries received via the Fund's hotline Number of beneficiaries receiving counselling and treatment services
2012 13 841 2 286
2013 9 064 1 989
2014 8 975 1 913
2015 8 429 1 933
2016 8 818 1 927

     The decline in the number of enquiries received via the Fund's hotline in recent years may be attributable to the shift in communication patterns among the public to more frequent use of online or social media.  As such, starting from last year, the four centres have been operating dedicated social media page or hotline (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook) in addition to the telephone hotline for public enquiry or request for assistance.

     Last year, the Ping Wo Fund Advisory Committee (the Advisory Committee) has, upon review, decided to allocate additional resources and increase funding support to the two centres serving Kowloon East and New Territories East regions starting from 2017 so as to raise their service outputs.  Overall the Fund's total annual funding support to the four centres has been increased from $16.21 million in 2016 to $21.16 million in 2017, representing an increase by more than 30%.  The four centres should now be able to handle about 2 400 cases per year.  As for the other two centres serving Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West and New Territories West, their service contracts will expire in December 2017.  We will conduct within this year a review on the service output, performance indicators and level of funding support for the two centres.

(2) The age of 18 is generally regarded as indicator of adulthood in Hong Kong, and it is also the statutory age for legal gambling in Hong Kong.  Currently, there seems to be no prevailing view in our society requesting that the legal gambling age should be raised.  Regarding any proposal to raise the legal gambling age in Hong Kong, the Government should examine prudently and take into account the views of various sectors in the society.  The Government also has to consider carefully if such a proposal would divert young people aged between 18 and 21 to illegal gambling (including online gambling), and hence increase the risk of young people participating in illegal gambling and having gambling-related problems.

     As for overseas practice, given that overseas places do not share the same background and objective factors with Hong Kong, their approach may not be directly applicable here.  In fact, the restrictions on gambling age differ among various places and there is no standardised practice.  For example, people in the United Kingdom can enter casinos when they are aged 18 but can buy lottery tickets at the age of 16.  In Singapore, the law requires that people entering casinos must be aged 21 or above but the age for participating in horse race and sports betting and buying lottery tickets remains at 18.  In Macau, people below the age of 21 are not allowed to enter the casinos, but the age of legally participating in horse race betting, football betting and basketball betting remains at 18.

(3) & (4) To enhance promotion of no-gambling messages among young people and in communities, the Fund introduced the Ping Wo Fund Sponsorship Scheme in 2009 and the Ping Wo Fund School Project Grants in 2010 to sponsor non-governmental organisations and schools respectively for organising anti-gambling publicity and education events.  In 2016, the two schemes allocated a total of $8.6 million to finance 89 publicity and public education projects.

     We all along emphasise the promotion of no-gambling messages among young people and fully understand the importance of family education to our young generation.  Therefore, when vetting applications under the Ping Wo Fund Sponsorship Scheme, the Advisory Committee gives priority to activities that target young people or families as audience or beneficiaries and encourages such activities to raise public awareness of the risks of gambling associated with popular and new gambling channels (including football betting, online gambling, credit betting and betting through junkets).

     Moreover, we provide resources to four counselling and treatment centres financed by the Fund to promote no-gambling messages in schools and communities and offer training for teachers, social workers and relevant individuals for their clearer understanding of the symptoms of gambling disorder so that they can seek assistance or make referrals in a timely manner.

     At the same time, the Fund organises, in collaboration with relevant bodies, publicity and public education programmes to discourage gambling addiction, and holds various territory-wide and district-level activities to step up promotion on the message of healthy living.  For example, with the UEFA European Football Championship held in 2016, the Fund collaborated with relevant bodies to launch the promotional campaign entitled "Healthy Living. Kick Gambling!" under which various thematic activities were held across the territory and in communities to amplify anti-gambling messages among the public.  Such activities include family fun days, All-Star Youth Football Challenge targeting young people, campus movie screenings and thematic road shows at MTR stations cum Instagram photo competition.

(6) According to the Betting Duty Ordinance (Cap. 108), the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) has to pay betting duty on its betting operations.   The rate for horse race betting is 72.5% to 75% on the betting turnover netting prize moneys, while the rate for football betting is 50%.  As for lotteries, apart from the 25% of proceeds being charged as betting duty, HKJC shall pay 15% of the proceeds into the Lotteries Fund to finance social welfare services.

     HKJC will use its profits, after netting prize moneys, betting duty, profit tax and operating expenses, for charitable donations or organising community projects including making donation to the Fund to support various measures to prevent and alleviate gambling-related problems.   HKJC has all along been the major funding source of the Fund.  It has previously undertaken to contribute $45 million to the Fund each year during the four-year period from July 2015 to June 2019.  HAB and the Advisory Committee will closely monitor the financial situation of the Fund, and will discuss and follow up with HKJC on the subsequent donation and relevant arrangements where necessary.

Ends/Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:13