Playing it safe

Written by Andrew W Scott

WGM speaks with Davis Fong, Associate Professor in International Integrated Resort Management and Director of Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau’s Faculty of Business Administration, about responsible gaming initiatives in Macau.

WGM: How prevalent is problem gambling in Macau?

Davis Fong: We use a scale to calculate the prevalence of gambling disorders called DSM-V and from that scale we have found that around 2.5% to 2.6% of people suffer from one of the three different levels of gambling disorder. Using the old scale, the DSM-IV, the peak level was 6% in 2007 so if you look at this data I would say it’s pretty much under control. Even if you look back a little bit to 2003, the first year we conducted a prevalence study, at the time the level was 1.8% to 2.5%. That’s the percentage of all people aged 18 to 64.

WGM: But not all people gamble, so if you look at it as a percentage of people that gamble, it will be a higher number.

DF: In 2003, we had 65% of people who gambled at least one time in the last 12 months. Using the same scales and measures, the number in 2016 was around 50%. So, based on that measure and looking at the people who actually get involved in gambling, you multiply that by two. Taking into account that 2.5% to 2.6% of people suffer from some level of gambling disorder, that means the percentage of people who gamble and suffer from problem gambling is around 5% today.

WGM: Do you have any research that gives you any insights to why it has gone down?

DF: Unfortunately we don’t have any testing regarding the down trail of so-called problems, but there are some speculations. One of them is the introduction of responsible gambling initiatives in 2009 – it’s in its ninth year already. I think people actually understand problem gambling and responsible gambling now. To be more precise, before we did any promotions, around 16% of people understood and knew about problem gambling and responsible gambling. Now that figure is 63%. From 16% to 63% — I guess there may be some effect from those people who understand it and can control their gambling behavior. This is one of the speculations because of the responsible gambling promotions.

WGM: What is the visibility of responsible gaming to the top players who are mainly from mainland China? What are the ways that the players can know there is a program available to them?

DF: Very good question. Starting from 2017, last year, the government shifted the focus from local people to tourists. We put a lot of resources at the border gates. In Gongbei they actually have a booth there where people can download the app about problem gambling and responsible gambling. At the same time, we put some blue boxes just in front of the border gate to make tourists aware of problem gambling and responsible gambling. We also have responsible gambling kiosks, around 30 of them, around Macau. At the end of the day we hope each casino or gaming area will have a kiosk. Our ultimate goal is to have around 40 kiosks. That way, when tourists visit the casino floor, they can see a kiosk. We check the hit rates of these kiosks and up to this moment there have been around 30,000 hits of the kiosks and 70% of them have been by tourists.

WGM: Over what period of time have those 30,000 hits been?

DF: In the last three to four years. We cannot say that it is low because it is a cumulative effect. For example, people coming to Macau several times are a moving target. We just calculate the effectiveness of kiosks but not so-called TV awareness. Several years ago, the DICJ actually encouraged the casino operators to advertise their responsible gaming apps on their TV channel inside the hotels, so whenever you press the button to switch on the TV you can see all RG app advertising. You can’t check how many people actually read this, but I can say it’s a very high awareness because most guests switch on the TV and it always pops up on the screen.

Another thing is that we encourage the casino operators to advertise their app not just on hotel TV show but also their shuttle buses. They show some materials, even at SJM – they show their apps on the back of the chairs and then the people can see it. Of course, if you have time to visit casino floors, there are some electronic displays and from time to time they show some pop-up advertising too. On each slot machine there must be one label to provide the 24-hour helpline. This has been implemented for four years already.

WGM: Is there any particular demographic that is more susceptible to problem gambling? DF: Yes. Based on the people who seek help, one-third are gaming industry employees. This is very important because it means if we pass a law to ban gaming employees from entering Macau casinos then one-third of the problem may be solved.

WGM: Due to the fact that they are always here, does that mean Macau locals face the biggest danger?

DF: Yes 95% are Macau locals. Only 5% are from Hong Kong or mainland China. They still seek help, but unfortunately we can’t provide a long-term treatment program for them because of their visa. They can’t live here. When we first started, 80% of the people to seek help were male but now it is closer to 70%. It has decreased gradually. Women are catching up. More and more women seek help today.

WGM: What about age group?

DF: The average age is 40-something although the latest data is indicating a slightly younger age.

WGM: If anyone reading this needs help or would like to find out more, what should they do?

DF: They can call our hotline, which is open 24/7 in both Chinese and English, on +853 2823 0101.