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HomeIntelligenceDeep DiveHigher minimum wagers at Macau casinos contribute to heightened levels of debt: Study

Higher minimum wagers at Macau casinos contribute to heightened levels of debt: Study

A recent study by scholars from universities in Macau and mainland China found that Macau gamblers seeking help face more severe debt issues. The analysis suggests that this situation likely originates from the higher minimum wagers at Macau’s table games.

The study, based on data collected from gambling helpline callers between 2015 and 2021, reveals stark differences in the characteristics and struggles of gamblers across three regions: mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

The study finds that 32.7 percent of Macau helpline callers indicated debts exceeding MOP200,000 ($25,000), which is ‘more than double the proportion in other regions.’ This points to a more severe debt situation among help-seekers in Macau.

The paper mentions that the high minimum wagers at Macau’s table games, typically around $35 per hand, likely contribute to this heightened level of debt. However, in most Macau integrated resort casinos observed by AGB, the minimum bet normally stays at HK$500 ($64), and some are up to HK$1,000 ($128) per hand during holidays or weekends.

The study, entitled ‘Characteristics of Gambling Helpline Callers in Macao: A Regional Comparison,’ was conducted by scholars from the Centre for Gaming and Tourism Studies at Macao Polytechnic University, the School of Tourism Management at Macao University of Science and Technology, and Guangzhou Xinhua University.

The study’s results were published in the Journal of Gambling Studies. It surveyed 943 gamblers seeking assistance through local helplines, with the majority originating from Macau.

Based on the data collected from the gambling helpline, during counseling, although most of the callers appeared to be stable or slightly troubled, 5.2 percent expressed suicidal ideation, which is significantly higher than the figure in Spain and South Africa. 

‘This high figure may be attributed to the substantial debts reported by a high percentage of helpline callers, since a strong correlation between high levels of debt and increased risk of suicidal ideation has been well-established,’ the study notes.

Higher minimum wagers at Macau casinos contribute to heightened levels of debt: Study

72.9 percent of help seekers were in debt

In a summary of the results of the gambling-related characteristics, the study finds that helpline callers reported that the average length of their gambling problems was 7.3 years.

In terms of the form of problematic gambling, about 60.5 percent of helpline callers played at casino table games. In addition, 72.9 percent of the help seekers were in debt, with slightly over 40 percent owing less than MOP200,000 ($25,000), 9 percent owing more than MOP1 million ($124,400), and 7 percent owing between MOP500,001 ($62,200) and MOP1 million ($124,400).

The comparison between the data from the three regions uncovers that higher percentages of Macau and mainland callers’ gambling problems involved casino table gambling, while Hong Kong callers reported problems with sports betting.

‘This disparity is explained by the fact that the three locations have different gambling jurisdictions, resulting in different gambling accessibility,’ the study notes.

Given that gambling is illegal on the mainland, mainlanders need to travel to Macau to gamble legally in a casino. As a result, similar to Macau callers, their gambling problems are primarily associated with casino table gambling, as casino gambling is only authorized in Macau. Likewise, Hong Kong callers reported problems with sports betting because horse racing and soccer betting are legal in Hong Kong.

The study also mentions that although mainland callers had a shorter history of gambling problems, while a much higher percentage of them had debts exceeding MOP500,000 ($62,200).

Higher minimum wagers at Macau casinos contribute to heightened levels of debt: Study

Hong Kong gamblers are much younger

Comparisons between gambling helpline callers from Macau, mainland China, and Hong Kong revealed interesting findings. Substantially higher percentages of the callers from Hong Kong were under 30 years old (54.1 percent), students (13 percent), and single (73.7 percent). This finding corroborates an earlier study suggesting that the number of Hong Kong youngsters involved in gambling activities is generally high.

As for their attitude towards the referral service, more Macau callers were willing to be referred than those from the mainland and Hong Kong. ‘This higher referral rate is mainly because treatment facilities are located in Macau, and therefore going is more convenient for local callers,’ the study finds.

Macau Gaming Staff

‘More tailored approach’ suggested for helpline service

Scholars indicate that the Macau helpline has a relatively low referral rate, which may be related to geographical factors and a younger population. Referrals are essential for further treatment and improving gambling issues, but they are primarily conducted via face-to-face counseling, which is not helpful for non-local help seekers, such as mainland and Hong Kong callers.

Based on the differential preference for helpline communication mediums across the three regions, ‘a more tailored approach to helpline service is needed’.

In addition, while in general Macau helpline callers are relatively younger, ‘the comparative analysis reveals a more alarming trend for young individuals and students from Hong Kong. It is suggested that educational initiatives be integrated into school curricula to inform the youth about the potential harms associated with gambling, which could increase their awareness and prevent the onset of gambling problems.’

Scholars also emphasized that the rate of suicidal thoughts is relatively high, which demands immediate attention and effective preventive measures.

‘Counseling organizations should prioritize the development and implementation of evidence-based strategies for suicide prevention. This may involve training counselors to recognize and respond to suicidal ideation and establishing clear protocols for risk assessment and subsequent actions.’ 

In particular, the high incidence of debt among mainland callers to gambling helplines highlights a dire need for financial counseling and support services beyond Macau. The study suggests the establishment of cross-border collaboration in monitoring and managing cross-border gambling activities and sharing information on effective treatment and prevention strategies.

Viviana Chan
Viviana Chanhttps://agbrief.com/
Viviana Chan is an editor, interpreter, and journalist. With over a decade of experience, she writes in English, Chinese, and Portuguese. Viviana started her career in Macau-based newspapers, where she became passionate about the region's social, financial, and cultural development. Her writing focuses on the economy, emerging industries, gaming development, political affairs, and cross cultural-exchange in the business and cultural domains. She is avid for news and eager to discover and cover stories that generate public relevance.

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