Chinatown’s Hidden Epidemic: Gambling In The Asian Community

March 12, 2006

Chinatown’s Hidden Epidemic: Gambling In The Asian Community

KGO By Vic Lee


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Mar. 10 – KGO – It is a culture issue, plain but not so simple. It’s not just that people perceive a gambling problem in the Bay Area’s Chinese community, it’s that that community recognizes it and wants to do something. A news conference Friday underlines some startling statistics.

Thirty-seven percent of Chinese Americans see themselves as either pathological or problem gamblers. That is according to a recent survey conducted at Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square.

Yet another poll asked Chinese Americans to list the most serious problem in their communities.


Alice Lai-Bitker, Alameda County supervisor: “Seventy percent of the respondents said gambling is their number one problem. That’s very telling.”

So telling, that a coalition of Asian American groups is banding together to highlight the issue.

Among them, social worker Mary Poon.

Mary Poon, Asian Family Institute: “Gambling has been in the roots of the Asian culture. We use it as a social activity you know.”

Gambling, the coalition says, is so pervasive in the Chinese community, that it’s ruining lives, families and bank accounts.

In Chinatown, there are even rumors — persistent rumors — of a casino in a secret underground tunnel. What is known is the gambling behind small doors in the alleyways of Chinatown.

The most popular game is mahjong. Some of it social, much of it for money. Even with the doors closed, you can hear the sounds of the mahjong tiles from the street.

Chinatown is a lucrative advertising venue for the casinos. On one side of a street corner, an office selling cheap trips to Thunder Valley Casino. On the other, an ad for the River Rock Casino.

Eighty-eight-year-old Jimmy Moye went inside to buy a weekend package to River Rock. Moye says he gambles to relax.

Jimmy Moye, San Francisco: “Gambling is actually no good. You never win, see. But for enjoyment once in a while it’s good.”

But every Chinese, including Jimmy Moye, knows someone who’s lost his shirt

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