Gambling can undoubtedly be a corrosive addiction. Livelihoods and families can be crushed by the destructive debt incurred by suffering from the addiction. As a result, betting shops with high limits and ruthless business models that facilitate the addiction and somewhat feed off the addiction, are often seen as the culprits. Within the small radius of London Chinatown there are at least eleven betting shops that rake up their profits by extorting gambling addicts and their hard earned cash. Consequently, many of the Chinatown community are fighting to see a reduction in the amount of betting shops in Chinatown. However, would banning the growth betting shops really tackle the issue of gambling addiction in Chinatown?
There is no doubt that the elimination of all betting shops in Chinatown would eliminate gambling addiction in Chinatown. Nevertheless, an absolute ban of betting shops isn’t wise as a free market requires choice for its consumers, and rightly so. Casinos and betting shops do fulfil their roles as places of leisure. For the infrequent gambler, casinos can of course be a fun night out. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the prospect of potentially going home with more money than they left the house with? Above all else, we live in a liberal society and an outright ban on any legal industry would be unhealthy for our otherwise free society.
If an outright ban is out of the question, anti-gambling activists are looking at reducing the amount of betting shops in Chinatown itself. Eleven betting shops in such a small radius certainly seems to be excessive and to a large extent unnecessary. Such a concentration of gambling shops fuels the addiction by providing an almost endless stream of opportunities to gamble. However, would a reduction in the amount of gambling shops really tackle the issue?
In order to answer this, we need to first examine what the issue is. Are people becoming addicted to gambling due to the number betting shops? Whilst the quantity of betting shops provides numerous opportunities to gamble, the number of betting shops itself doesn’t necessarily initiate the addiction. It is also important to analyse why there are so many betting shops in the first place. Market forces of supply and demand suggest that the supply of betting shops matches the demand for them. Betting shops can afford to expand because they are full aware that there is an overwhelming demand for it. If the demand is great enough to satisfy the supply of eleven betting shops, reducing the number of betting shops will not deplete this demand. The gargantuan demand that satisfies eleven betting shops will still exist whether there are eleven betting shops or three and thus the level of addiction will still persist. In this regard, gambling addiction will not be reduced even if the number of betting shops is reduced.
Those fighting for the reduction of betting shops in Chinatown also allude to the fact that it is destroying the culture of Chinatown. Chinatown, as the name suggests, should embrace all things Chinese. Activists argue that the over concentration of gambling shops are eroding this.
However, to what extent does Chinese culture embrace gambling anyway? We must consider why a concentration of betting shops exists in Chinatown itself in the first place and not in other areas of London. Is there a link between Chinese culture and gambling? Whilst casinos may be illegal in China itself, it is interesting that Macau’s turnover is three times that of Vegas’, with the majority of its visitors coming from Mainland China and Hong Kong. I’m not saying that Chinese culture intrinsically embraces gambling, but it seems unlikely that it is pure coincidence that gambling revenue is generated largely from Chinese pockets.
So if reducing the supply of betting shops won’t eradicate gambling addiction, what can realistically be done?
Resolving the issue can come in multiple forms and will require different approaches, depending on how people perceive the issue. If we acknowledge, albeit reluctantly and begrudgingly, that gambling addiction does permeate within Chinese culture, then we need to target the addiction at its root cause. This involves long-term education and rehabilitation. We need to educate the Chinese community about the dangers of gambling to discourage people from over spending and slipping into the downward spiral of gambling addiction. For those who already suffer from addiction, like any drug, we need to provide rehabilitation. Both education and rehabilitation won’t achieve immediate results, but in the long term, our community will be better off.
I’m not saying that reducing the number of betting shops in Chinatown is a bad thing. Of course, the less gambling opportunities that exist in the community, the better, but the problem extends far beyond the simplicity of quantity. Banning shops may have fruitful effects in the short run but it doesn’t deal with the issue at its root cause. Eventually, with education and rehabilitation, the number of betting shops will reduce due to market forces anyway. If this route is followed, it becomes a matter of time. The question then is, are we willing to wait? In any case, it’s certainly an issue that needs to be discussed more within the Chinese community.