The Hidden Addiction: Problem Gambling in Asian American

. Read the essay embedded. [PDF] After reading Micheal Liao’s essay on Asian Americans & Problem Gambling. Write an persuasive essay that argues: That the role of culture, predisposition, life experience, and target marketing are factors that adequately explain the high rates of prevalence of problem gambling among Asian Americans. Requirement: There are total 6 paragraphs- one introduction paragraph, four body paragraphs that culture, predisposition, life experience, and target marketing each factor has one paragraph. and last one is conclusion paragraph.

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By Michael S. Liao, NICOS Chinese Health Coalition
Asian Americans are a diverse group. The U.S. Census defines an Asian person as having
origins in countries of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for
example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands,
Thailand, and Vietnam. 1 According to the Asian Pacific Islander Health Forum, Asian and
Pacific Islanders originate from over 50 countries and speak over 100 difference languages and
major dialects. 2 It is difficult to pin-point a universal Asian American “culture” amidst a
kaleidoscope of diverse experiences and cultures. However, despite the wealth of diversity,
Asian Americans do share some commonalities – such as traditional values of collectivism and
the importance of the extended familial networks. More recently, there has also been increased
awareness of something that many members of the Asian American community share – a love
for gambling. This article aims to explore the phenomenon of gambling in the Asian American
community. Specifically, the article will examine the role of culture, predisposition, life
experience, and target marketing in gambling behaviors among Asian Americans, and will
propose some recommendations to service providers for prevention and intervention.
Types of Gambling
It was been noted that types of gambling preferred varies among ethnic groups. Even among
various Asian American sub-groups, there may be differences in game preference. For example,
several studies have noted that casinos games such as black jack, roulette, baccarat, and Pai Gow
poker are favored by some Asian ethnic groups including Vietnamese, Chinese, and Koreans.3, 4
Some theorize that this preference for casino games may be related to the long historical practice
of using cards and dice for wagers. In today’s society, the significant Asian presence in the
glitzy world of poker tournaments, where many of the top players are of Asian descent, is fairly
well-known.5 Other games favored by Asians include machine games such as slot machines and
video lottery terminals. For example, one study in Australia found machine gambling to be
popular among Koreans6, whereas other studies in the U.S. have found machine gambling to be
popular also among Chinese7, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian populations.8 Other forms
of gambling favored by various Asian groups include the lottery and sports betting.9 Besides
commercial gaming, many Asian groups also engage in more “traditional” forms of wagering,
especially during holidays and celebrations.
Frequency of Gambling
Do Asians gamble more than other groups? This idea has certainly been presented by many –
and supported anecdotally by almost all who have ever been inside a card club or casino. In
California, even the Attorney General’s report “Gambling in the Golden State” acknowledged
that Asian Americans are “highly represented among recreational gamblers”,10 citing an article
written by Casino City Times which estimated that up to 50% of the clientele at a popular tribal
casino near Riverside and San Diego, CA, are Asian Americans.11 Similarly, an investigative
report in the Silicon Valley Metro newspaper, variously reported that Asians make up between
50 – 80% of the clientele at the two local card clubs.12 Not surprisingly, much of this anecdotal
information on gambling participation by Asians has been mirrored by empirical research. For
example, in a study of gambling and problem gambling in Queensland, Australia, the results
showed that gambling is a highly common social activity among Chinese and Vietnamese.13 In a
study conducted in Connecticut with 96 Southeast Asian participants (herein referred to as the
Connecticut study), it was found that nearly half of all participants had gambled within the past 2
weeks, and 42% had bet more than $500 in the previous two months.14 Finally, in survey study
conducted by graduate students from the University of California, Berkeley (herein referred to as
the UC Berkeley study) found that almost a third of the Chinese Americans surveyed in San
Francisco’s Chinatown reported gambling once a week or more.15
Problem & Pathological Gambling
While frequent gambling may certainly signal potential problems, to be certain whether
gambling pathology disproportionately impacts the Asian American community, one must
examine prevalence rates. In a study conducted in 1991 by Henry Lesieur, et al., examining
gambling pathology among university students across five states, it was found that Asian
American university students had the highest rates of pathological gambling (12.5%) compared
to the overall study sample (4-8%).16 In a study conducted in 2001 by the Research Institute on
Addictions with a nationally-representative sample, it was found that Asian Americans were
more than 3 times likelier than Caucasians to be classified as problem gamblers.17 Interestingly,
when the results of a California state prevalence study was released in 2006, it showed Asian
Americans to have lower rates of pathological gambling as compared to the general population.18
Many in the Asian American community found issues with the findings, particularly the study’s
method of telephone survey employed, and the lack of Asian-language interviewers to be
problematic in capturing a representative Asian American sample. Groups such as the Asian
Pacific Islander Task Force on Problem Gambling have since released public statements to
highlight their concerns over the study’s findings. 19 More recently however, a secondary
analysis on the California prevalence study data was conducted which revealed some new
information on problem/pathological gambling rates for Asian Americans. Lui and Chung 20
found that while the overall rates of problem/pathological gambling were lower for the Asian
American sample as a whole, those Asian Americans whose primary language was not English
were 2.8 times more likely to be a problem/pathological gambler as compared to the general
population in California.
Lui and Chung’s findings underscore the importance of recognizing the diversity within the
Asian American community, and highlight a short-coming of population studies that aggregate
the Asian American sample, which makes it impossible to make comparisons between different
Asian ethnic groups. Studies that have focused on specific Asian ethnic groups have in fact
found some to be much more vulnerable to developing gambling problems. For example, in the
afore-mentioned UC Berkeley study, it was found that among the Chinese surveyed, 21% met
the criteria for pathological gambling.21 Also, in the afore-mentioned Connecticut study, it was
found that among the sample of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian participants, nearly 60%
met the criteria for pathological gambling.22 To put these findings into perspective, the national
prevalence rate for pathological gambling (meeting criteria for the pathological gambling
diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th Edition) in the U.S.
is roughly 1%.23 In general, more research is needed, but it would appear that Asian Americans
may have heightened risks for problem and pathological gambling, and in particular, several
Asian sub-groups may have particularly high rates of gambling pathology.
Culture of Acceptance, Availability, and Access
Asian Americans arguably exist within two main cultures that widely accept and even encourage
gambling. Many Asian Americans grew up with traditional notions that gambling is an
acceptable social activity. As previously mentioned, many Asian sub-groups routinely engage in
various forms of gambling during special cultural celebrations and holidays. For various Asian
sub-groups, gambling may have played a role in the cultural/social fabric for centuries. In an oped published in The Electronic Journal of Gambling Issues, the authors noted that the first
examples of gambling in Chinese societies were recorded around 700 BC. 24 One Chinese
proverb demonstrates the culture’s acceptance of gambling, at the same time signaling a warning
to those who overindulge: “A little gambling is soothing and relaxing; heavy gambling could
affect your mental health”. Despite the ancient adage promoting moderation in gambling, we are
now witnessing a boom in countries like Hong Kong for state-operated lotteries and resort-style
casinos. Asian immigrants, upon arriving in the U.S., also find a culture which promotes
government-run and government-sanctioned gaming, where gambling opportunities are
plentifully available. Given the factors of historical tolerance, social acceptance, and availability,
it is not entirely surprising to find so many Asian Americans drawn to the local gambling
The apparent popularity of gambling with many Asian Americans have prompted some within
the community to speculate whether this is “in our blood” – alluding to some inheritable
predisposition. If one were to assume that there is a genetic explanation for why Asians may be
more likely to develop problems as a result of gambling, one would also expect to find higher
overall rates of disordered gambling in Asian countries. When national prevalence rates were
examined in countries such as Taiwan25, Hong Kong26, and Korea27, it was found that the rates of
problem and pathological gambling were consistent from those found in European and New
World countries (Taiwan – 5%, Hong Kong – 1.5%, and Korea – 1%). In contrast, rates of
disordered gambling among Asian immigrants in western countries often yield much higher rates
of gambling pathology compare to the general population. For example, research in Montreal,
Canada28 have shown problem gambling rates for Chinese to be about 5% and an additional
pathological gambling rate of 2%, while research in Calgary, Canada29 have found a problem
gambling rate of 8%, and research in Sydney, Australia30 have shown a pathological gambling
rate of about 8%.
The finding that immigrants have higher rates of problem gambling would seem to suggest that
the process of immigration may play a key role in the development of gambling pathology. Two
main theories have been proposed to explain the correlation between immigration and problem
gambling. The first theory posits that immigrants and refugees may have personality traits that
make them greater risk takers. Immigration for most involves taking some risks – some have
even braved dangers and other challenges in order to emigrate. Therefore it is argued that these
individuals, who took a gamble to leave their country in search of a new home, may have a
propensity to take risks. In deed, personality traits such as sensation seeking31, risk-taking32, and
impulsivity33 have been found to be linked to pathological gambling. While personality traits
may certainly play a role in rates of problem gambling, to date there is no conclusive data to
show that Asian immigrants as a whole exhibit personality traits that are correlated to problem
Life Experience
The second theory to explain problem gambling among Asian immigrants posits that the
experience of immigration – including any experience of trauma and subsequent stresses of
adaptation contribute to greater likelihood of problem gambling. Trauma has been linked to the
development of problem and pathological gambling.34 It is not surprising therefore, to find that
pathological gambling has been found to be more prevalent among those who have experienced
childhood sexual and physical abuse 35 , among war veterans 36 and refugees 37 . In the aforementioned Connecticut study, it was found that nearly 60% of the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and
Laotian refugees and asylum-seekers met criteria for pathological gambling.38 One reason for
such high rates of pathological gambling in the Connecticut study can be attributed to the
participants’ potential experience of trauma.
In addition to blatant forms of trauma as a result of escaping genocides, war, and torture, there
are also more subtle acculturative stresses that can impact behavioral health. In a qualitative case
study of four Chinese –Canadian immigrants, immigration and acculturation stresses were cited
as key factors in problematic gambling behaviors.39 The case studies also highlighted the impact
of loss and isolation as a result of immigration. Loss of social and supportive networks such as
extended families and tight-knit communities can create a sense of isolation. This is often where
local gambling establishments step in to fill the void. In addition, immigrants also typically
work very hard in order to care for their loved ones and send money back home, and gambling is
often viewed as a source of stress-relief. Gambling may also help immigrants fulfill a sense of
status. Many Asian immigrants report that success in gambling can bring about recognition, in
addition to being a quick way to make money. Further, studies have often pointed to decisionmaking opportunities as motivation for gambling – particularly among marginalized populations
who feel a lack of control in their daily lives.40 Life stressors such as adjustment problems, preexisting trauma, can therefore predispose immigrant populations to be more likely to gamble
Gaming Industry’s Target Marketing
Last but not least of the factors to consider when addressing the issue of gambling in the Asian
American community is the gaming industry’s methods of outreach and marketing. What are
some of the ways that the gaming industry caters to Asians specifically? Gambling
establishments frequently shuttle potential patrons from communities with large Asian
populations (Chinatowns, Koreatowns, etc.) to their facilities. 41
Further, gambling
establishments frequently hire bilingual staff in order to increase comfort and ease for their Asian
patrons.42 For many Asian immigrants who reside in communities that lack linguistically and
culturally-specific entertainment and media outlets, the local card club or casino may serve as the
de facto community center and gathering ground. Attractions at these gaming venues may
include Asian food and entertainment.43 For the latter, it is not uncommon to see gambling
venues feature top-name performers from various parts of Asia. The Silicon Valley Metro article
revealed that many Vietnamese are drawn to a local card club in part for the free accompanying
shows – such as Vietnamese bands and DJ’s that would otherwise cost $10 to $20 to see
elsewhere.44 Many gambling establishments also boast tables or even entire sections devoted to
Asian-style games. For example, a tribal casino in Northern California has an ‘Asian Gaming
Lounge’ featuring table games such as Pai Gow poker. Some casinos have also gone as far to
cater to their Asian clientele as to redesign their facilities to meet certain needs – such as the case
of a $1.6 billion luxury resort casino in Australia, where Feng Shui consultants were brought in
to design the tower and internal layouts.45 Casinos and other gambling establishments further
develop name-recognition in Asian communities by having a presence in major ethnic events
such as Lunar New Year celebrations and other cultural festivals. 46 All the marketing and
catered services boil down to patronage and profits. However, the question becomes: Is there a
line that should be drawn between the promotions of goods and services in a free enterprise and
the potential exploitation of vulnerable populations? Also, if the gaming industry profits from
marketing to a segment of the population, should it have equal responsibility to give back in
ways to mitigate the adverse impacts of its products?
In the next section, the article will share information and lessons learned from the Chinese
Community Problem Gambling Project (CCPGP) in San Francisco. The project, a pioneering
effort between NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, Richmond Area Multi-Services and Donaldina
Cameron House, was created to meet the unmet needs of Chinese problem gamblers in San
Francisco and the greater bay area. The project grew out of a local task force on Asian problem
gambling which was formed in 1998. In the subsequent years of addressing problem gambling
among the Chinese and the broader Asian American community, the CCPGP today is recognized
as a leader in providing culturally relevant problem gambling services. Its unique and
comprehensive approach covers the wide spectrum from prevention to clinical intervention to
systems advocacy. Each of those components will be addressed in the following section.
Early Intervention
It has been documented that children growing up in households where one or more parents
gambled excessively are more likely to become a problem gambler. 47,48 Since gambling is
prevalent among many Asian cultures, early intervention may be particularly important. There is
evidence that even among youth, Asians might be at a greater risk of developing gambling
problems. In a survey study conducted with 246 Asian students from three major high schools in
San Francisco (hereto referred to as the SF Asian Youth Gambling Study), the prevalence rate
for pathological gambling was found to be 10.9%.49 This is much higher than the 2-5% national
prevalence rates found among this age group. 50 The SF Asian Youth Gambling Study also
uncovered that most teens reported learning gambling from friends, relatives or fathers, in that
order.51 This particular finding tells us that effective early intervention strategies must address
the culture of acceptance, in order to reshape social norms and learned behaviors. Similar to
other studies, the SF Asian Youth Gambling Study also found that teens who started gambling at
a younger age are more likely to be problem gamblers.52 This finding points to the importance of
well-timed interventions. Research has shown that problem gamblers often start gambling
before the age of 10.53 Effective early intervention programs should consider the impact of early
onset of gambling when designing outreach efforts.
Family & Community Support
As previously mentioned, many Asian gamblers often report immigration stresses and difficulties
with adjusting into American society as reasons for gambling. Strengthening family and
community can be a powerful tool to help Asian gamblers. Service providers working with
Asian gamblers often have to act as a liaison, linking gamblers to other services such as ESL
classes, job training, public benefits assistance, and financial counseling. Such resources are
essential for helping to stabilize the gambler’s present situation and to help strengthen the
support network in the client’s recovery. While the social service providers is not expected to
play the role of immigration lawyer or financial adviser, those working closely with Asian
gamblers should still gain familiarity with important issues such as immigration policies,
bankruptcy law, public benefit eligibility, etc. Service providers working in areas that do not
have an obvious Asian community may need to network and outreach to local ethnic faith-based
organizations, community centers, and cultural institutions. As many problem gamblers report
isolation and lack of recreational outlets to be reasons for gambling, linkages to alternative social
outlets would be beneficial.
For many Asian gamblers, family is a big motivating factor to stop or cut-back on gambling.
The CCPGP, for example, found that of the callers to the Chinese language gambling helpline,
the second most commonly reported reason for their call is impacts to the family, second only to
financial troubles.54 The importance of family in the Asian community means that family can
either be a resource or a roadbl …
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