A report presented in December to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) makes a strong case that recent Asian immigrants—often living alone, with little community or family support—are especially vulnerable to problem gambling.
The report, “Unpacking the Root Causes of Problem Gambling in the Asian Community,” was presented by the Asian CARES Center for Addressing Research, Education and Services. It said Bay State casinos lure an already at-risk population by providing an environment “in which the Asian community feels welcome and accepted. Marketing and buses aid in targeting the community.”
The report seeks to “fill in the gap of understanding how problem gambling manifests in the Asian community and also to understand whether existing programs, services and interventions are adequately serving this community.” Specifically, it recommends that the MGC earmark funds to help mitigate the problem.
Principal investigator Heang Leung Rubin, who led the study with Mia Colby, told GGB News, “We want to encourage (people) to rethink how they think about mitigation. Let’s not wait until something is at a critical point. We know enough about the kinds of dire impacts that gaming can cause. We see this as an equity issue, hopefully to address it earlier.”
Organizations that contributed to the research include VietAID, the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) and the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. The study included 40 interviews with Asians speaking languages ranging from Khmer, Mandarin and Cantonese to Korean and Vietnamese.
From a public health perspective, Rubin said, it’s important to identify the causes of the problem “upstream,” before it becomes unmanageable. This study and others suggest that problem gambling may originate in “systemic issues related to poverty, emotional well-being, loneliness and boredom”—conditions that affect ethnically and culturally displaced populations.
In many cases, Rubin added, gambling problems among immigrants only become evident when they have reached a crisis point—for example, when family members seek help for domestic violence connected to gambling losses. Those people often seek help at Asian community centers, where there are fewer language barriers.
“Oftentimes those who are low-income and limited English-proficient don’t feel comfortable accessing mainstream services,” Rubin pointed out. “They find them alienating. These community organizations really need investment; they are the bridge. Hotlines and translators are not enough to get appropriate services.”
Causes, Proposed Solutions
Ben Hires, chief executive of the BCNC, was co-principal investigator and also a sponsor of the report. He said the problem dates back to the 19th century, a period of mass immigration by Asians, especially Chinese, who were brought in to do cheap labor such as building the Transcontinental Railroad. Those immigrants brought with them a cultural love of games of chance. Then as now, they were subject to exploitation.
Hires cited a 2019 MGC report, “Talking about Casino Gambling: Community Voices from Boston Chinatown,” in which Asian immigrants were interviewed in a joint project of the BCNC and the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.
“One recommendation at that time was to address the marketing and busing that extended to other Asian communities like Viets and Cambodians.” He said the current report takes aim at the gaming industry, which “takes advantage, such that they are able to impact Asian families.”
The research identified root causes of problem gambling, such as:
- Gambling to earn money, creating a cycle of poverty
- Cultural losses due to immigration
- Social isolation of immigrants
- Gambling as a way to relieve stress and escape reality
Problem gambling can cause:
- Financial stress
- Deteriorating family life and damage to parent-child relationships
- Special impacts on the elderly
- Increased risk of domestic violence
- Impacts on mental health
- Challenges with discussing problem gambling
- Increased funding of “ethnic-based community-based organizations to develop culturally and linguistically appropriate services for gambling prevention and intervention”
- Expanding the definition and use of mitigation funds to include workforce development programs for immigrants
- “Equity audits” of casinos focused on responsible gambling and advertising towards the Asian community
Yoyo Yau, BCNC chief program officer, argues that prevention should rise above traditional models to investment in overall community health. “Immigrants have a sense of loss,” she said. “Their jobs are mostly low-paying jobs, with no career pathway.” Mitigations should aim at “creating a sense of belonging in the community,” she said.
Regarding the most recent report, Hires praised the “field workers who are very culturally competent, who were able to get in-depth information. That information really addresses the root causes of problem gambling—not just individual problems family and community interventions.”
Added Rubin, “We believe in trying to prevent a problem before it happens, before it becomes financial ruin.”
For more information and additional resources, visit asiangamblingsos.org.