Conference addresses problem gambling in Asian Community


Youth and adult problem gambling addiction was much of the focus at the National Council Conference on Prevention, Research and Treatment of Problem Gambling held last month in St. Paul. Specialists presented insights and shared stories that would help counselors and nonprofit organizations help their communities battle an ever-increasing problem—at a time when gambling is more popular than ever.

Jeffrey Derevensky, a child psychologist from McGill University in Montreal, delivered the keynote address. He and other presenters, such as Roger Svendsen from the Minnesota Institute of Public Health, gave a disturbing picture of the spread of casino addiction among youth. Derevensky said that gambling starts very young. Children learn from their parents. Studies estimate the rates of problem gambling among youth to be four times that of adults. Over the past decade youth have increased access to gambling through the lottery, sports wagering, casino gambling and electronic forms of gambling via the Internet. Derevensky drew attention to Internet gambling and how this addiction is linked to depression among youth. He mentioned video games, such as the Amazing Chateau, and showed clips of sexy advertisements designed to attract young males.

In one of the workshop sessions, Janet SooHoo, a social worker from Seattle, Washington, shared her story of growing up with a father who was a problem gambler. Her early memories were of the sound of mah jong tiles and being left in a car while her father gambled at a racetrack. He even pawned his wife’s wedding ring.

SooHoo said the linguistically isolated first-generation Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and South Asian immigrants share this common problem – as it does not require much communication to gamble. Her father and his fishing buddies went to the racetrack. But in counteracting their loneliness and isolation, she said the casinos treated them well. The lowly Chinese restaurant workers were treated well at casinos. This gave them a feeling of respect. The casinos also market them well. She showed slides of Chinese women boarding a bus as the Casino buses made daily pickups in Chinatown, and flyers of ‘Cambodian Nights and “Stars of Vietnam” entertainers.

Gambling is socially acceptable in the Asian communities and specific cultural problems have resulted, with children often becoming “the fourth player,” SooHoo said. Gambling is integrated into social events such as weddings, funerals and ceremonies. Her research confirms the reports of high prevalence in the Asian communities. Whereas, problem gambling is around 3 percent in mainstream population, it is as high as 21 percent in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The NICOS study suggests that the combined pathological and problem gambler percentages are even higher. Petry’s study from Connecticut (2003) recorded a 59 percent lifetime prevalence rate among Southeast Asians.

SooHoo said there is a cultural paradox. While gambling is seen as acceptable, problem gambling is seen as a moral issue – not as a treatable disease, but a character weakness. Problem gambling is a derogatory term. Excessive Gambling is a selfish act. The road to recovery is often delayed in Asian families with “bail outs” of family members to try and keep the shame in the family and cover the gambling debts. Another problem is when people do not understand extended lines of credit

Esther Tran, described problem gambling prevention and recovery in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She said there are similarities between Asian gambling in the United States and Canada. The numbers of Asians in Canadian casinos are also disproportionately high. She estimates 30 to 40 percent of casino gamblers are Asian, while they only account for 5 percent of the population.

Prevention and Best practices
Jeffrey Derevensky said parents should start talking to their children about the risks from gambling by age 9 or 10. He encouraged the use of television docudramas, such as Clean Break to reinforce their message. Janet SooHoo said engaging adult Asian problem gamblers is done by slowly building trust and respect. The casinos offered them respect, safety, warmth. Recovery must be in a welcoming, familiar environment. She starts by getting gamblers to tell their stories, and then she talks about responsible gambling. She works with their families. It is usually a family member who first calls about a loved one. SooHoo sees the cultural community centers as having an important role in offering alternatives to casinos. The need for non-gaming activities, ELL classes and employment programs is clear.

Community readiness was another concept shared by Roger Svendsen (MIPH). Esther Tran said that in Canada the Cambodian community quietly began expressing their concerns to her about gambling, and the need for prevention. However, there was still a lack of demand for treatment. The prevailing attitude seems to be ‘it’s the gambler’s problem and they don’t seem to care for services.’ However, Esther Tran said that a good place to start is an ethnic community base within a mainstream agency. She designed culturally appropriate brochures, worked with key community leaders, wrote for local community media, and got her agency to advertise services in community newsletters.

Tran recommended incorporating discussions of problem gambling into all cultural events and putting it on the agenda for discussion wherever possible.

Tribal casinos in some other areas of the country such as California, and north of the border in Canada, seem further along than Minnesota in problem gambling prevention and socially responsible gambling. For example, in California, the casino employees are trained to spot problem gamblers and to provide them with resources to seek help. Casino employees say they can smell compulsive gamblers. “They don’t stop to take a shower!”

“If you want to reach the gambler – the best place is in the casino,” said Esther Tran. In Canada, Tran spends hours in the casinos doing outreach. She runs workshops for casino employees, and operates a responsible gambling information center within the casino with prominently displayed helpline numbers. Now they have someone to whom they can make referrals.”

To learn about culturally competent resources for problem gamblers and to access Asian individuals on the roster of trained counselors in MN call 1/800-333-HOPE.