Gambling is a common phenomenon of which we all have some knowledge. Today, we have the pleasure to invite Dr Liu Hsin I to share his view on the topic from sociological perspective. Please note that the discussion of gambling in this interview refers only to the gambling in public sphere. Following is the abstract of the interview due to the limitation of time.
1. Q: How do sociologists view the phenomenon of gambling?
A: In the view of Max Weber, gambling is a kind of rational social action. It's rationality simply because it always involves the (rational) calculation of probability. However, gambling is also irrational or at least non-rational, because it is driven by instincts, which is not simply biological but always socially and culturally cultivated. Like many social phenomenon, gambling is a contradictory combination of different forces.
2. Q: In the society, is gambling related to class?
A: Gambling is class-related. In Hong Kong society, people in the lower class has fewer opportunities for moving up in the social ladder. Under this circumstance, gambling serves as an accessible way for them to move up the social ladder.
3. Q: Many people think that there are many disadvantages of gambling, such as addiction and bankruptcy and etc., however, the government still legalizes certain kinds of gambling. What functions do gambling have from the functionalist perspective?
A: No matter how socially-culturally cultivated it is, gambling is driven by instinct, which needs outlet occasionally. The governmental legalization of certain kind of gambling serves as a safety-valve for such energy. The existence of the legalized channels for gambling may prevent from the irrational way of gambling. The legalization of gambling enables the government to levy tax on the activity, which is good for the economy--the "collective interests." In the name of collective interests, some "personal problem"--like addiction and bankruptcy--can always be ignored.
4. Q: Someone has proposed to build casinos in Hong Kong, and the Financial Secretary Mr. Tsang said that he needed to consider the proposal carefully. What kind of factors do you think the government needs to consider when weighing the advantage and disadvantage of building casinos in Hong Kong?
A: Casino represents the "ideal type" in gambling--in Weber's term. Under the roof of casino, it is very easy for any government to administer and servile gambling. Nevertheless, since Hong Kong already has a lot of legalized channels for gambling and outlets for people's instincts of gambling, building casinos is no longer a matter of releasing gambling instincts but encouraging gambling behavior. Although building casinos bring more tax revenue to Hong Kong's economy, economy is never the only factor that a government should take into consideration. Morality is another factor which is vital to any mode of governing. The balance of moral and economic interests should always concern Hong Kong government.
5. Q: what do you think about the relationship between gambling and the division of labor ?
A: There is a correlation between gambling and the division of labour. Karl Marx's concept of "alienated labor" argues that modern people who specialize in fragmentated works have little sense of the totality of their work and have little control over the whole production process. In this way, such specialization and fragmentation prevent people from realizing their human potential as a 'total man', and humans lack a sense of satisfaction in their works. Under this human condition, gambling, for some people, is the way to exercise and demonstrate self-control over their daily lives. In the process of gambling, people can make their own choices and take the responsibilities.
6. Q: Gambling in the internet has become quite ardent nowadays, but individual government find it very hard to regular or prohibit it. What is the effect of the globalization of gambling on the people's livelihood?
A: In Hong Kong's case, the effect of the globalization of gambling on people's livelihood is not much. After all, people who gamble in the internet need to be computer-literate, and there are only a few of them in Hong Kong.
7. Q: In Hong Kong's TV channels, there are live horse racing and after match analysis. In the magazine and newspaper, there are also special columns on horse racing. What is the effect of mass media on gambling?
A: Mass media always reflect and shape. There is no exception for the case of gambling.
8. Q: Movies films reflect the culture of a society. In Hong Kong's Movies, gambler is either portrayed as hero or rascal. What value concept does this dichotomy represent?
A: Every society is a society of distinction. The distinction such as good/bad, moral/immoral, rational /irrational serves the interests of the powerful, therefore knowledge is a discursive formation of power. In Hong Kong's movies, the image of gambler is quite vague. It shows that the social nature of gambling is not yet defined in this society. As the image of gambler shifts from hero to villain, the knowledge of gambling swings back and forth between good and evil, moral and immoral. Such vagueness informs us that there is still power struggle to define gambling in the society and the final judgement on gambling may never be made.
9. Q: Is there any gender difference in gambling?
A: Surely there is a gender difference in gambling. In any institutionalized gambling, less women take part in it than men do, such as in Hong Kong's horse-racing. It shows that women are still the underprivileged gender in the society, and there is no exception in gambling.
10. Q: In Hong Kong, horse-racing and mark six are legal gambling, while other forms of gambling are defined as illegal, such as horse-racing organized by other groups rather than the Jockey Club. Yet their nature are the same. Why there is a distinction between the legal and the illegal?
A: From the economic perspective, it is the matter of tax. From the moral perspective, it has to do with the power struggle for political leadership in the society. In Hong Kong, the power to define legal/illegal is still in the hands of the ruling elite. One of the most important functions for distinguishing legal and illegal is to constrain the individual freedom in the name of collective interests.