The father-son team works well together, discussing ways to help each client who arrives at the Hong Kong Gamblers Recovery Centre.
On a family visit to Macau, Mrs Wu took this photo of Raymond outside a casino while Mr Wu was gambling inside. (Photo provided by interviewee)
Mr Wu began to help other taxi drivers who were driving themselves towards bankruptcy by gambling, after he cleared his own debt. (Photo provided by interviewee)
During twice-weekly dinner sessions at the Hong Kong Gamblers Recovery Centre, the Wu family members console and advise compulsive gamblers’ family members.
Kicking betting habit a family affair
June 16, 2013
Wu Bing Chuen developed a penchant for betting as a child. By the time he had had two children of his own, the habit had become a full-blown addiction. With the support of his family, the taxi driver finally broke free of gambling’s grip and now helps others follow suit.
Frayed family ties
From about the age of seven, Wu Bing Chuen was a gambler. It began on the streets with other youngsters, betting his lunch money on whatever punt came his way.
“Poker, mahjong, horse racing…I liked all kinds of gambling. Wherever I could make a bet, I would go,” Mr Wu said.
Gambling grew to be an intractable part of his life. At the height of his addiction three decades ago, he was a taxi driver. He would work for only an hour or so a day, but spent at least 16 hours gambling.
The more time he spent betting, the more money he lost. To fund his addiction, he cheated tourists, taking them on the then cross-harbour ferry and charging them $400 for what was then a $4 surcharge.
He could not win back the money he poured into gambling. Instead, he built a mountain of debt, climbing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If he had not gambled, Mr Wu, now aged 62, said he could have owned five or six taxis.
His bad habit had serious consequences for his wife and two children. Mr Wu regularly asked his young son Raymond to lie so he could avoid the ever looming loan sharks.
“I was not a responsible father. I didn’t teach my son to be a good boy. Instead, I taught him to lie,” he said.
Raymond, now 31, was just six years old at that dark time in his father’s life. He recalls getting many phone calls at home, mostly from foul-mouthed lenders. His father instructed him to say that he was not at home when they called.
“Sometimes the loan sharks would bang on the door loudly outside our home, shouting my father’s name and asking for money. I was frightened,” he said.
Mr Wu was always missing from family photos. The family once visited Macau together, but while Mrs Wu was taking pictures of the children outside a casino, Mr Wu was busy gambling inside. Often, when he was meant to be spending time with Raymond and his younger sister, he would be found inside off-course betting branches, leaving them to their own devices outside.
In 1987, with the help of his family and a sympathetic missionary, Mr Wu finally sobered up to his destructive addiction and turned his back on gambling. It took him 10 years to clear the stockpile of debt, and he began to help other taxi drivers who were driving themselves towards bankruptcy by gambling.
In 2007, 20 years after he quit gambling, Mr Wu also quit his job to set up the Hong Kong Gamblers Recovery Centre in Kwun Tong. It runs strictly on donations. More than 2,000 compulsive gamblers and their family members have sought help from the centre, which treats its clients as family.
“I’m so proud of him. He was bad, but he changed. Very few people are able to talk openly about their gambling problems. But he speaks candidly about his chronic addiction and subsequent recovery to every gambler he meets, to help them quit gambling,” Raymond said.
After Mr Wu cleared his debts, the Wu family could have lived in comfort and travelled every year. However, Mr Wu chose to use all he earned to set up the centre, and spends most of his time helping others.
Life lessons shared
He readily acknowledges his gratitude for his family’s wholehearted support. His wife forgave him for years of hardship and regularly appears at the centre’s events, which include twice-weekly dinner sessions. She helps prepare and serve the meal, then dishes up reflections on his former habit, to help console and advise compulsive gamblers’ family members.
Raymond left a well-paid job at a big insurance firm a year ago, took a course on counselling, and now works at the recovery centre full time.
“My father got a new life after he quit gambling. I want other families to have their father back, too,” Raymond said, explaining the reason behind his life-changing decision.
The father-son team works well together, discussing ways to help each client who arrives at their centre.
“He has more than 20 years’ experience helping others to quit gambling. I could never learn that from school. He is the best teacher I have ever had,” Raymond said.
In September, 2003, the Government established the Ping Wo Fund to finance preventive and remedial measures to address gambling-related problems. Compulsive gamblers and their loved ones can call the free and anonymous counselling hotline, 1834 633.