Professor Davis Fong, Director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming in Macau, explains just how far Macau has come in promoting responsible gambling.
Academic leader in the promotion of responsible gambling in Macau, Professor Davis Fong has undertaken more than 40 gambling and tourism related research projects for the Macau SAR Government.
Aside from his position as Director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming, he has been a Consultant for the local Economic Development Committee since 2017, a member of the Talents Development Committee since 2014 and part of the Consultative Committee of Statistics since 2015 (UM Representative).
He is also a Deputy of the sixth Legislative Assembly of Macau. Inside Asian Gaming speaks with Professor Fong about the progress Macau has made in his time promoting responsible gambling and the latest initiatives to identify and assist those with a gambling problem.
Oscar Guijarro: You’ve just launched the Responsible Gambling Promotions 2019. Can you tell us about this year’s RG initiatives?
Davis Fong: This is the first time we have invited all stakeholders on the same platform to showcase what they will do in the coming year. In previous years, as the main organizer, we just announced what we were going to do, so this is the first time all the stakeholders, including the six casino operators and three NGO representatives, will showcase what they would like to do in the coming year.
Because this is my first time looking at the whole plans of the different stakeholders, I was able to make some comparisons and saw that previously all stakeholders just focused on their internal training, internal promotion, whereas this time many initiatives focus on customers, employees, family as well as community. And the so-called RG initiative is quite creative and more diversified.
Previously it was just a very passive promotion to deliver the message of what responsible gambling should be. This year we can see some interactive games and some competitions as well. It is more creative, more fun.
OG: What are the main initiatives targeting tourists?
DF: Tourists are always a main target and the major organizer (Macau Government) actually put in a lot of resources. At the border gate we have had a very big billboard for three months in each of the last three years targeting tourists. We also use the government’s resources to put our ads on digital displays. Besides this, the DICJ has sponsored some local NGOs to conduct RG seminars in China. They have already sponsored five seminars on the mainland with one to go, so it will be six in the last three years.
OG: How would you describe the current proclivity of problem gambling in Macau?
DF: It has improved a lot. I would like to say it meets our expectation and we are satisfied now. The first prevalence study before Sands opening the first IR, Sands Macao, was conducted in 2003. At that time 1.8% were classified as pathological gamblers and another 2.6% as problem gamblers, so altogether around 4.4% of the population suffered from a gambling disorder.
The most updated figures are from 2016 – for 2019 we are still wrapping up the final report – and altogether are around 2.5%. So I would like to say I’m satisfied but once again, because of accessibility, with more and more casinos or IRs opening, we need to keep up our effort, our momentum.
OG: Is there any such thing as a typical problem gambler?
DF: We see some statistical differences between several groups. There will be a high chance for the casino gambler and the soccer betting gambler to become addicted to gambling rather than other forms such as a mahjong and social gambling such as the Macau Jockey Club. It’s very difficult for them to get addicted, but for casino, for soccer betting, it’s much easier to develop a gambling problem based on statistics over the last 16 years. That means in Macau, problem gamblers basically do two things, casino gambling or soccer betting. Together they make up almost 90%.
OG: What unique challenges does Macau face in combatting problem gambling?
DF: There is one big challenge in Macau, which is school. Schools, frankly speaking, are quite conservative regarding responsible gambling initiatives. They don’t want to directly promote responsible gambling because from the schools’ perspective there is no gambling at all. That’s why it’s very difficult for us to promote responsible gambling before students leave the school, which leaves a gap.
Then, after they turn 21, they have a lot of curiosity, there are a lot of casinos, they go inside and can lose control. We are trying to overcome these obstacles. We have developed some teaching materials so that each year schools can have one class to teach students about the value of money, the value of assets and the value of gambling at the end. Principals accept this idea because instead of promoting responsible gambling directly, we focus on understanding values.
OG: We are seeing the local gaming market slowly evolve from a VIP-centric environment to a mass market one. Is this process being reflected in the problem gambling figures? Is there any distinction between VIPs and mass players in terms of problem gambling?
DF: We actually can’t find any statistical significance between these so-called VIP and non-VIP gamblers in the area of prevalence. However, for VIPs, sometimes it’s very difficult to compile any surveys from the public health perspective because VIPs are very low profile, very difficult to interview face to face. So I’m not so sure we can produce a sound result to compare the VIP and non-VIP populations. It’s quite an interesting question and an unsolved problem.
However with VIPs, if they gamble, let’s say, one or two times a year, even if they gamble big it doesn’t mean they are problem gamblers. From my understanding, gambling disorder means a continuous happening in the last 12 months – and you need to show some symptoms, at least four out of the nine identified symptoms.
If that’s the case then you can probably be categorized as having a gambling disorder but if you gamble one or two times a year, even if you lose HK$10 million, it doesn’t mean you are problem gambler or have a gambling disorder, you just gamble big.
OG: Is there any universal method to tackle problem gambling or does each jurisdiction need to develop its own approach?
DF: After 11 years promoting responsible gambling, I’ve found that cultural differences is one of the biggest barriers. When you develop your own theme or slogan you need to touch the gambler’s mind and to do that you need someone, an academic maybe, to understand the local culture.