28 June 2010

CUHK Sociology Department Releases Research Findings on Pathological Gambling of Marginal Youths and Students in Hong Kong

Prof. Nicole Cheung Wai-ting and Prof. Cheung Yuet-wah, Department of Sociology of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), conducted a research on adolescent gambling, in collaboration with The Hong Kong Council of Social Service and youth outreaching teams and gambling counseling service of 11 social service agencies (including The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong, Caritas Hong Kong, Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong, Hong Kong YWCA, The Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Christian Service, Hong Kong Children and Youth Services, The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Hong Kong Playground Association, The Neighbourhood Advice-Action Council, and Even Centre of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals). Funded by the Research Grants Council of the University Grants Committee, the study aims to examine and compare pathological gambling behavior in marginal youths and students, and its social and psychological correlates. Results of this study will have significant bearings on the planning and implementation of prevention and treatment services for juvenile gamblers, particularly among marginal adolescents.

The design of the study is a sample survey with a standardized questionnaire. The survey comprises a marginal youth sample and a school sample. The marginal youth sample is drawn from the aforementioned 12 collaborating social service agencies, correctional institutions of the Correctional Services Department, and correctional homes of the Social Welfare Department. The school sample is a random sample of students from 83 Chinese-speaking secondary schools. The study successfully surveyed 703 marginal adolescents between May 2009 and January 2010, and 4,734 students between February to July 2008. Of the marginal youth respondents, 78% were male and 22% were female; their ages ranged from 11-24; and the mean age was 17.6 years. Of the student respondents, 51% were male and 49% were female; their ages ranged from 12-23; and the mean age was 16.4 years. Results of the survey are as follows:

Gambling Pattern

In the 12 months prior to the survey, 95% of the marginal youths and 28% of the students had gambled for money. According to the gambling screening instrument of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition and Juvenile Version, (DSM-IV-J) (possible scores ranging 0-12), among all marginal youth respondents, 22% would be classified as “pathological gamblers” (scoring 4-12). Yet, only 1% of all student respondents would be classified as “pathological gamblers”. These results indicate that marginal youths tend to have a far higher pathological gambling rate than students.

As to gambling frequency, marginal youths tended to gamble more frequently. Of those marginal youths who had gambled in the last 12 months, 36% gambled once to five times a week and 10% gambled once a day or more. Of those students who had gambled in the last 12 months, just 7% gambled once to five times a week and 1% gambled daily. Besides, the two most popular gambling activities among marginal youths were card games (93%) and Mahjong (77%), followed by dice games (54%), Mark Six (47%), and placing bets on soccer games (36%) and horse racing (30%) via the Hong Kong Jockey Club. For students, card games (64%) and Mahjong (59%) were also highly popular, followed by dice games (33%), Mark Six (28%), and tossing coins (23%) (Table 1). In addition, pathological and non-pathological gamblers among marginal youths and students had no significant differences with respect to preferences for various gambling activities (Table 2).

Gambling-related Problems

Based on the items of the DSM-IV-J gambling screening tool and comparing the gambler groups of marginal youths, pathological gamblers were more likely to have gambling-related problems than non-pathological ones by 10% to 60%. The major problem encountered by pathological gambling marginal youths was “often returning another day to chase loss after losing gambling money” (96%), followed by “thinking about gambling all the time” (78%), “lying to family/friends for gambling” (63%), “spending more and more money on gambling” (62%), “using dining/fare money for gambling” (58%), and “seeking help for serious money worry caused by gambling” (53%) (Table 3).

Among the student gambler groups, pathological gamblers were also more likely to report gambling-related problems than non-pathological ones by 33% to 72%. The problems of “often returning another day to chase loss after losing gambling money”, “thinking about gambling all the time”, “lying to family/friends for gambling”, “spending more and more money on gambling”, “becoming tense or restless when trying to cut down or stop gambling”, and “using dining/fare money for gambling” were major ones, as they were reported by 60% to 80% of pathological gambling students (Table 4).

Illicit Drug Abuse and Alcohol Use

As to drug abuse, in comparison to the two groups of non-pathological gamblers and non-gamblers, pathological gamblers in marginal youths and students had an increased likelihood of drug abuse by 12% to 17% and by 19% to 20%, respectively, and their frequencies of drug use tended to be higher (Table 5). Moreover, comparatively speaking, a greater proportion of pathological gamblers in marginal adolescents and students reported frequent drinking (Table 6). Taken together, there was co-morbidity of such addictive behaviors as drug abuse and frequent alcohol use in youngsters with pathological gambling.

Mental Health Status

The mental health status (ever having often felt bored, depressed, hopeless, anxious, worried, and scared for no reason in the last two years) differed significantly among pathological gamblers, non-pathological gamblers, and non-gamblers. In marginal youths, pathological gamblers were more likely to have these negative emotions by 3% to 9% than non-pathological ones, who in turn were more likely to report these emotions than non-gamblers by 5% to 10%. In a similar vein, student pathological gamblers were prone to report negative emotions by 15% to 21% compared to non-pathological ones, who were also more likely to report these emotions than non-gambling ones by 2% to 4% (Table 7). These results suggest that emotional distress increased with the severity of gambling across marginal youths and students.

Attempt to Reduce or Quit Gambling

There were significant variations in the tendency of the gambler groups to cut down or stop gambling if their daily life (including family relations, study/work performance, interpersonal relations, and physical health) was adversely affected by gambling. Across marginal youths and students, pathological gamblers tended to cut down gambling but non-pathological gamblers were prone to quit gambling (Table 8).
Social and Psychological Factors Affecting Pathological Gambling in Marginal Youths and Students

Factors elevating the likelihood of pathological gambling included (Table 9):

- Weak social bonding with family and school, namely, “inadequate family support and monitoring”, “deficient parental socialization of money management”, and “weak attachment to school”;
- Social learning of gambling pertaining to “association with gambling peers” and “parents who have gambling habits”;
- Social strain pertaining to “stressful life events”, “coercive parenting”, “negative school experiences”, “negative relations with peers”, and “perceived neighborhood problems”;
- Psychological factors pertaining to “low self-control”, “low gambling control self-efficacy related to high risk situations of gambling”, and “strong sense of uncertainty”.


On the basis of the above findings, the following recommendations are made:

1. The gambling policy should target the marginal youth population, given that marginal adolescents have a higher likelihood of developing into pathological gamblers. More resources should be allocated to gambling prevention, counseling, treatment, and other support services for marginal youths. Collaboration between youth serving agencies and gambling treatment agencies should also be enhanced, so as to better address the needs and problems of marginal youth gamblers.

2. Juvenile gamblers should be screened with reference to the severity of their gambling, as non-pathological and pathological young gamblers vary in terms of problems in relation to their gambling behaviors, emotional distress, and tendency to reduce/quit gambling. Such screening would facilitate more efficient and effective intervention targeting different gambler groups.

3. Youth pathological gamblers tend to have concurrent drugs and alcohol abuse. As such, gambling behaviors should not be addressed in an isolated manner. Services to young gamblers should take into account the co-morbidity of addictive behaviors and the all-round well-being of adolescents.

4. To prevent drifting into pathological gambling or even remove gambling behavior, more resources should be made available to the strengthening of family and school support/monitoring for juvenile gamblers, guiding them to cope with social strain in proper ways, helping them to stay away from friends with gambling habits, boosting their self-control and gambling control self-efficacy, and mitigating their uncertainty and emotional distress.

5. Family education is equally important. Prevention and intervention of gambling among young people should sort out ways of assisting parents to implement appropriate parenting, refrain from coercive parenting, reduce gambling, and inculcate in their children a proper approach to money management.

6. Law enforcement should strengthen the crackdown of illegal gambling and usury activities. Penalty for money lenders of usury who offer loan to young people under the age of 18 should also be increased.

(From left) Prof. Cheung Yuet-wah, Chairman, Department of Sociology, CUHK; Prof. Nicole Cheung Wai-ting, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, CUHK; Mr. Chan Chi-sing and Mr. Ken K.M. Chan, The Hong Kong Council of Social Service
(From left) Prof. Cheung Yuet-wah, Chairman, Department of Sociology, CUHK; Prof. Nicole Cheung Wai-ting, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, CUHK; Mr. Chan Chi-sing and Mr. Ken K.M. Chan, The Hong Kong Council of Social Service

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