Special Report – Our neighbour

The opening of new resorts and the increase in the supply of gaming tables does not seem to have been enough to entice more Hong Kong residents to come and gamble in Macau. 

MB October 2020 Special Report | The Chinese Gambler

From 1970 to 1978, for example, 90 per cent of Macau’s visitors were from Hong Kong. From 1993 on, the percentage of Hong Kong visitors began to decline gradually, “because of increase of Mainland visitors and Taiwan visitors. In 2003 for the first time the number of Mainland visitors overtook that of Hong Kong visitors and became the dominant visitors to Macau,” states Professor Zhonglu Zheng, Macau Polytechnic Institute. 

Other characteristics of the Hong Kong gambler, which the renowned investigator also collected, is that even though Macau has increased casinos, gambling tables, slot machines and the minimum betting money on each hand, “the gambling involvement in Macau’s casinos and their median betting money each month remain almost unchanged from 2001 to 2011.” 

According to Professor Zheng, from the Gaming Education & Research Centre, “Hong Kong residents’ interest in Macau’s casino gambling doesn’t increase even though Macao had more casinos and tables.” 

Another important piece of research on this subject is the Comparative Study of the Motivations, Activities, Overall Satisfaction and Post-Trip Behaviours of International Tourists in Macau: Mainland Chinese, Hongkongese, Taiwanese, and Westerners, by a team led by Sung Hee Park, from MUST. 

They begin to assume that, “there’s evidence from the literature that there are distinctive nuances among the three cultural groups,” and the research proves it: Hong Kong tourists have higher intentions to return to Macau than the others, for instance. In the same line of thought, “Hong Kong tourists are more attracted to local and cultural resources as well as entertainment” or “Hong Kong travellers to Macau represent the highest proportion of young travellers.”  

Even the differences between those groups “are relatively subtle”, as other research underlines, “for Macau’s casinos, understanding the subcultural differences of Chinese customers is critical, given that nearly 90 per cent of Macau’s customers come from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” states the article published in 2017 in Macau Business (“Know your Chinese gambler,” from Institute for Tourism Studies). 

For their part, Hong Kong gamblers “were likely to take longer to place a bet” or, “showed higher tendencies to try new games, ask for an explanation of a game and show a ‘peak-and-valley [volatile] betting pattern.” 

Let’s return to the research of Professor Zhonglu Zheng. He is one of the authors of To Gamble or Not? Perceptions of Macau Among Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Visitors (2012).  Among the main findings, we learn that 47.2 per cent of the Mainland Chinese had gambled in Macau casinos, but only 27.6 per cent of the Hong Kong citizens did the same. 

On the other side, Mainland gamblers and Mainland non-gamblers, “cited leisure and vacation as their primary motivation for visiting Macau” (and many non-gamblers said they were in MSAR for shopping purposes). But the behaviour of the Honk Kong travellers is different: while gamblers assume they are visiting Macau naturally to gamble, non-gamblers said in this research that their primary purpose is to visit friends and relatives, “and to enjoy delicacies.” The authors conclude that, “Macau has not been perceived as a shopping paradise by Hong Kong residents.” 

Pathological Gambling in Hong Kong 

“In Hong Kong, very little research has been conducted on the prevalence of pathological gambling, or on the relationship between ‘the gambling personality’ and the illusion of control,” stated Elisabeth Papineau in 2005. 

She quoted a Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2001) survey on the Hong Kong people’s gambling habits, using the DSM-IV and the American conceptualization of pathological gambling. “In so doing, those researchers set themselves apart from their colleagues in the PRC by recognizing excessive gambling as a mental health problem.” 

The ritual of the bi-weekly horse races, the permissiveness associated with the mahjong gambling culture, and the great accessibility of games in Macao, have together allowed excessive gambling to become a much greater problem in Hong Kong than in the PRC. 

Those findings are corroborated by Professor Chi Chuen Chan, one of the authors of the book “Problem Gambling in Hong Kong and Macau – Etiology, Prevalence and Treatment” (2016, Springer). “There are more similarities than differences between Hong Kong gamblers and Macau gamblers”, he said to Macau Business. 

Professor Chan praised the measures to help gamblers, especially from Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), the only government sanctioned and not-for-profit gaming operator in HKSAR. “We believe that the future of gambling lies with the decisions and strategies of the HKJC. When compared with the integrated resorts in Macau, the HKJC has a number of effective responsible gambling measures”. 

MB October 2020 Special Report | See > … and it all started in China