Friday, September 05, 2008

Asian Americans Combating the Gambling Addiction

Asian Americans Combating the Gambling Addiction
New America Media
Pacific Citizen, News feature, Todd Kushigemachi, Special to the Pacific Citizen
Posted: Sep 01, 2008

Michael Liao's stepfather is a compulsive gambler, and he almost ruined the family's financial situation when he accumulated $40,000 in debt.
Liao's mother Sandy Lee and stepfather Joseph Chan live in Taiwan where they have a computer business. Lee works as a piano teacher and was hoping to slow down and possibly retire, but that has changed now that the money from the business goes to paying off the gambling debt.
"She's forced to continue to work, and there's a lot of pressure to compete with other piano teachers in the community," Liao said. They even had to remortgage their home to help sustain themselves.
Chan was so ashamed of his debt he left town at one point, explaining in a note that he could not face anyone.
"The debt kept piling up until it was so overwhelming, and he felt so ashamed that he wasn't able to turn his luck around and win everything back like so many problem gamblers fantasize about," said Liao, director of programs at the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, a group of health and social organizations that serve the Asian Pacific American community.
Although gambling is widely accepted as a social activity among APAs, it can lead to addiction. While the average percentage of problem and pathological gamblers in the United States is less than 5 percent, the average is about 20 percent for APAs, according to Tina Shum, a social worker at San Francisco's Donaldina Cameron House.
Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA's Gambling Studies Program, said gambling is a "real hidden addiction," especially among APA communities.
The Pull of Casinos
Eugene Lee, program associate for the National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse, is currently working on a problem gambling prevention project, but a little over a year ago he worked at Commerce Casino, a Southern California card club.
Lee was a dealer who played to make money for Progressive Gaming, a third party proposition company. Estimating that Asians make up 80 to 90 percent of the clientele at Commerce Casino, he said the worst part of working at a card club was watching those who suffered from problem gambling."Some of these guys that come in to play at the card club don't even go home," he said.
Lee worked the swing shift from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. He would sometimes go home after the end of this shift to get his eight hours of sleep, come back the next day and see the same people gambling."They're still there in the same clothes," Lee said. "It's not like they're winning money. They're just trying to get their money back.
"For Asian immigrants, it is often difficult to find a place where they fit in, but casinos and card clubs can provide the sense of community they need, said Liao. Casinos sometimes fill the void left by a lack of community outreach.
"Do they have recreational centers? Community centers? The casino becomes a central focal point for immigrants," Liao said.
Casinos often bring in Asian entertainers and ethnic food to help draw in crucial portions of their clientele. Many try to hire card dealers who speak Asian languages. Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut even has a version of their Web site entirely in Mandarin Chinese.
"With gambling, there's no language barrier," said Chien-Chi Huang, Asian Community Program Specialist for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.
Difficult Road To Recovery
What many people do not know about problem gambling, however, is that it is medical rather than habitual, said Huang.
"Most people think it is a moral issue," Huang said. "We're trying to change that perception. We want people to understand this is a health issue.
"Until members of the APA community see gambling as a health issue, however, it is difficult to seek help because of the shame it can bring upon a family, according to Huang. Additionally, the idea of talking to a stranger is not widely accepted."For many Asians, counseling is a foreign idea. You don't tell a stranger about your personal problems," Huang said.
Dr. Fong, who has done research on the impact of gambling on APA communities in Los Angeles, said APAs often go into treatment too late, seeking help from churches and families before looking for professional help. Additionally, therapists are often not sensitive to issues important to the APA community.
"You can't dismiss values such as losing face and not including the family," Fong said. "With the Asian collective thinking, you have to have the family part of recovery.
"Some organizations have taken steps to provide resources for members of the APA community to deal with gambling addiction and its effects.
The Mass. Council recently produced an informational video to be played on a bus to Mohegan Sun, a casino located in Connecticut. The video will be available in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Khmer, alerting riders of the signs and symptoms of problem gambling and notifying them of hotlines they can call.In addition to providing counseling services in Chinese at member organizations like Cameron House, the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition has a hotline, which provides assistance to problem gamblers. The phone number for the hotline is 888/968-7888, playing on the fact that "eight" sounds similar to "prosperity" in Mandarin Chinese.
In 2001, the problem gambling program at NICOS used the campaign slogan, "When one person is addicted to gambling, the whole family suffers." Liao said this emphasizes the importance family has in treatment for problem gamblers in the APA community.
"Once family members become engaged, they can become a powerful way to get the gamblers to come in," Liao said.
Liao has done his best to support his own family, sending money to his mother every couple of months in order to help her financially. However, he hopes his stepfather will seek help because it could be an ongoing problem, as it is for many problem gamblers."
He claims that he doesn't gamble now, but if he doesn't address the underlying issues, they'll come out some way or another," Liao said.
Related articles

No comments: