he system is voluntary at the moment, but the government is studying the possibility of establishing a mandatory programme that will allow the bureau to instruct all casinos to ban some gamblers from entering their gaming floors. However, Iong said the measure is still being studied and the government is collecting opinions from the community.
According to the new draft law being discussed at the Legislative Assembly, any person can be banned from entering casinos, but only if they submit a voluntary request or accept one put forward by relatives. The official was speaking on the sidelines of yesterday’s opening of the Sheng Kung Hui (SKH) Counselling and Family Wellness Centre.
The chief of the centre, Seiko Lee Wai Wah, told reporters that she supports this kind of exclusion programme but “there is room for improvement”. “We need more cooperation with gaming operators so we can keep in touch with them and see if the programme is working or not,” she stressed.
Nevertheless, Lee urged the government to focus more on preventive work instead of only promoting self-exclusion programmes. “I highly recommend that gaming operators and other centres work together to help those gamblers with problems,” she said.
According to the latest study launched in August by the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming of the University of Macau, the gaming participation rate, which measures the proportion of Macau residents that gamble, dropped to 50 percent last year from 65 percent in 2007.
The IAS president believes “the gaming participation rate of local residents will continue to go down”. “Through education and promotion in the community, the situation seems to be under control,” he added. “Even if the trend goes up, we hope to solve the problem by establishing several assistance services for families,” he added.
But in the first year of operation the SKH Centre hotline service received 2,900 calls and dealt with about 200 cases of problem gambling, which means that more people are asking for help, Lee said. “According to our statistics, it [problem gambling] is increasing so people are really alert and seeking help. One situation we have to highlight is that in most of our cases people suffer from mental illness. Around 78 percent were depressed and 43 percent had tried to commit suicide,” she pointed out.
Lee suggested more cooperation with hospitals. “It’s better if they have a [medical] diagnosis, instead of just individual counselling. We are working closely with hospitals. Some cases are also referred by the hospital,” she added.
The centre has been operating on a trial basis since November 2010 but from now on Lee hopes to expand the services to all the community, especially in preventive education.
“We want to reach all adolescents in secondary and tertiary education. Maybe some people don’t seek any professional help, even though they have some gambling problems. So we want to enhance promotion,” she concluded.