Cup increases betting woes

Authorities should strictly regulate online information on illegal gambling as more people are falling into debt amid World Cup fever, anti-gambling social workers say.

Jeffery Yim Ho-yu, from the Zion Social Service Yuk Lai Hin Counselling Centre, told The Standard yesterday that more people have fallen victim to illegal online gambling sites that have risen in popularity during the Covid pandemic over the past three years.

Yim said during the pandemic there had been a shift toward online gambling as Jockey Club betting branches and mahjong schools were closed, while gamblers could not go to casinos in Macau during the fifth wave of local infection.

He said gamblers owe more amid the pandemic, as it is easier to bet and borrow money online.

"Before the pandemic, people often came to us with HK$300,000 to HK$400,000 debts, but now we can see that most of them are owing HK$600,000 or even exceeding HK$1 million," he said.

To lure gamblers into placing more bets, he said illegal gambling sites offer odds that are even higher than they Jockey Club's, while these sites are more willing to lend debt as gamblers' information has been stored in their systems when creating accounts.

With a five-hour time difference between Hong Kong and Qatar, most matches are held at nighttime in Hong Kong, and Yim expects his center will have a 10 to 20 percent increase in new cases after the one-month World Cup tournament.

"Many of these people were 'sudden gamblers,' a term that we used to call those who only participate in gambling during huge sports events," Yim said.

He urged the government to be consistent in anti-illegal gambling work.

"Not only do people become 'sudden gamblers' during the World Cup, but the government only allocates more resources when there are huge sports events," he said.

The SAR and law enforcers should remain high-profile in combating illegal gambling.

Including Yim's Zion Social Service Yuk Lai Hin Counselling Centre, four government-funded counseling and treatment centers will also extend service hours to handle messages on the Gambling Counselling Hotline (183-4633) and respond to text messages.

In the first World Cup match on Sunday night, Ecuador defeated the host country Qatar 2-0, with its betting odds slightly higher than Qatar before the match began.

By 9 pm yesterday, before the match of England versus Iran kicked off, betting odds for the British team were nearly eight times higher than for Iran.