Hong Kong gambling addicts seek redemption through faith

Caritas survey posits spouses as victims; former addict explains how religious beliefs saved his marriage
Hong Kong gambling addicts seek redemption through faith

The Yins share their story at a press conference in Hong Kong on Nov. 8 explaining how their Catholic faith saved their family from falling apart as a result of Mr Yin's compulsive gambling habit. They reserved special thanks for the efforts of the Hong Kong Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Center. (ucanews.com photo)

Compulsive gambling is not only ruining the lives of addicts but destroying families as more victimized spouses seek help from Catholic-run and other support agencies, according to a recent survey by the Hong Kong Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Center.

The center released the results of the survey on Nov. 8. It said more spouses had sought its help since the agency was launched in 2003, with many wives complaining of depression, economic woes, and a real or potential breakdown in family ties and relationships. 

At the press conference, one couple shared their experience of dealing with the destructive effects of a partner's gambling addiction and how their Catholic faith had helped the family stick together.

The husband, Mr Yin, said he had started placing bets of HK$50,000 (US$6,400) at a time over the last decade, until it got the point where he was US$77,000 under water.

He was even forced to retire early and use his pension to keep his creditors at bay. But despite using two-thirds of the pension to settle his debts, he admitted he had kept on gambling.

Mrs Yin said this had put a considerable strain on their family.

"I felt helpless and would often quarrel with him," she said.

"I had to start working, as his debts continued to mount. I borrowed money from our friends and relatives so we could make ends meet."

She encouraged her husband to visit the center to receive counseling back in 2014. With the help of social workers, and the support of his parish congregation, Mr Yin managed to quit his addiction within a year. 

"With my belief in God, I feel safer and more able to tolerate my husband's weaknesses with a stronger sense of love and patience," she said. "Now I pray for him every day and hope God continues to guide us."

"My faith has made me more humble and respectful of others," Mr Yin said, adding he is using his story to warn others of the perils of gambling. 

Some 86 percent of respondents in the center's poll of 1,074 spouses in Hong Kong were female. Seven in 10 who answered held salaried jobs while homemakers made up the remainder. Each was allowed to select multiple answers.

The results showed that 93 percent felt emotionally disturbed and insecure as a result of their partner's obsessive gambling; 88 percent said they lived in constant fear due to their size of the debt; and 30 percent had entertained suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, 79.5 percent feared their family would fall apart, 78 percent described themselves as "losers," and 89.5 percent said they often quarreled with their spouse as a result of their gambling habit.

Just over 71 percent admitted they routinely ignored both their own needs and the needs of their families; 66 percent said they tried to hide their spouse's gambling habit from relatives and friends; 44 percent felt they had to hide from their relatives and friends, either out of shame or because they owed them money; and 31 percent vented their frustrations at their spouse's gambling addiction on their children.

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In addition, 91 percent of the spouses felt the family's living standards had declined since their partner's gambling had got out of control; 68 percent said the problem was affecting their work; 56 percent had borrowed money from relatives or friends to pay off their spouse's gambling debts; 46 percent had been forced to sell off some of their property; and 30 percent said they were being harassed by the people they owed gambling debts to.

Alfred Chan Chi-wah, a senior social worker at the centre, encouraged the spouses of inveterate gamblers to continue seeking emotional support from agencies like his.

He said they could also benefit from learning fresh ways of handling their spouse's addiction, a skillset the center teaches free of charge.

The center is funded by the Ping Wo Fund of the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau and has been providing gambling counseling services since Oct. 15, 2003.

In the last 15 years it has given counsel to more than 10,000 gamblers and their spouses in the Chinese Special Administrative Region.

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