Massachusetts addresses Asian gambling addicts

August 23, 2006

Aug 22, 2006


By LING LIU
Associated Press Writer

 
 



BOSTON—
The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling is taking aim at a new group: Asian gamblers.

The council said it is dedicating $100,000 – new funding from the state Lottery – to the effort, the largest amount of funding it has ever allocated at one time to a single demographic group.

“Over the years, we’ve seen a need to provide services to serve the Asian community,” executive director Kathleen Scanlon said. “Anyone who knows the community says it’s a big problem.”

On Tuesday, a small task force made up of council members, social workers, students and a representative from the State Treasurer’s office, which runs the Lottery, assembled for the first time to discuss how the money should be spent.

The council plans to hire a Mandarin-speaking employee to coordinate the project, which will focus primarily on the Chinese communities in Boston and Quincy. Since the council doesn’t have any in-house treatment providers or any employees who speak Asian languages, one of the biggest tasks will be to train social workers at other agencies to treat Asian problem gamblers.

Officials plan to place bilingual advertisements in the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority subway cars and buses, Registry of Motor Vehicles offices and in Chinese newspapers. They will also translate their guidebooks and Web site into Chinese and produce a video to play on buses that bring Asian gamblers to casinos.

“A lot of people needed help, they just didn’t know where to go,” said Ming Chang, who worked as an addiction counselor in Quincy for seven years. She said that many Asian gambling addicts turn to friends or family before seeking professional help.

“They think, ‘Why do I have to talk to a stranger?’ The people I worked with had burned most of their bridges in the community already,” she said.

As long ago as 1995, the council conducted a survey in Boston’s Chinatown and found that compulsive gambling was a moderate to big problem. Despite the results, the council didn’t have the time or funding to address the issue. No other studies in Massachusetts have focused on Asian gambling addiction, according to Marlene Warner, the council’s program director.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, two massive casinos in Connecticut, have been marketing more aggressively to Asian gamblers in recent years. Every day, the two casinos send a combined 100 buses to predominantly Asian neighborhoods in Boston and New York. Both advertise heavily in ethnic media and sponsor popular community events. Mohegan Sun has said Asian spending makes up a fifth of its business and has increased 12 percent during the first half of this year alone.

The new initiative in Massachusetts, where Asians make up about 4.7 percent of residents, is ahead of some states with much larger Asian populations. In Hawaii, where 42 percent of the population is Asian, there is no legalized gambling. But illegal gambling is a problem and there are no services available for any gambling addicts, according to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

In California, where 12.4 percent of the population is Asian, the Office of Problem Gambling gave a $1 million grant earlier this year to the National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse to fund problem gambling prevention, but not treatment, for gamblers of all backgrounds.

“The treatment resources for Asian problem gamblers are virtually absent,” said Dr. Ford Kuramoto, national director of NAPAFASA.

Scanlon said the Massachusetts council has received calls from social workers who wanted training and materials to help Asian gamblers who have approached them. She said relatives of non-English speaking gamblers have called the council’s hotline for help. Besides English, the current hotline offers only Spanish language service.

The National Council for Problem Gambling found that 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. adult population, or six to eight million Americans, are classified as pathological or problem gamblers. Studies of Asian-American gambling addiction have been conducted in several parts of the country, but the national council has not yet sponsored a national survey of the problem.

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