By Sarah Yee
Northwest Asian Weekly
On a Tuesday night at any casino, many of the game tables are deserted. During this worldwide financial crisis, many businesses face losses in consumers. Everyone thinks that they need luck to survive.
More than any other industry, the gambling industry is probably the one that requires the most luck, both for itself and for its consumers. Many Asians in this crowd believe in getting fortunes through gambling.
“In this bad economy, gambling can especially provide a hope,” said Harumi Hashimoto, the problem gambling counselor at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS).
In 2008, according to the American Gambling Association, the national revenue in commercial casino gaming took a plunge for the first time in nine years. Along with the nationwide recession, there was a 4.7 percent decrease in consumer spending from 2007.
For problem gamblers, however, the economical recession has no influence on their habit.
“Gambling affects the brain chemicals,” said Hashimoto. “There is an 80 percent similarity between substance addiction and gambling addiction.”
Gambling has a direct effect on a person’s dopamine and serotonin levels. These chemicals are known to affect a person’s mood.
At ACRS, Hashimoto currently handles about 25 cases regarding gambling problems. Asian clients comprise of 20 percent of the cases. She has noticed that Asians do not actively seek help when gambling addiction problems escalate.
“There is no concept of counseling in the Asian culture. They don’t feel comfortable sharing emotions, especially men. Many people gamble to escape from emotional pain. You need a lot of courage to seek help and make a decision [to stop problem gambling],” said Hashimoto.
Gambling is socially accepted and popular in many Asian cultures. It’s widely practiced at weddings, ceremonies, and family gatherings. In regards to marketing strategies, casinos and card rooms have targeted their Asian patrons.
“It’s no secret in the casino business that Asians love to gamble and so we all have our own ways for going after that market,” said Richard Slack, a casino VIP Host in Penchanga Casino in San Diego, Calif.
Many casinos are advertised in ethnic newspapers. When one enters the venues, you can easily find Asian entertainment and cuisines. Businesses often incorporate “good luck” color schemes and utilize feng shui principles to lure the Asian consumers.
In Washington state, there are 432,943 Asian Pacific Americans. Asian Americans comprise 14 percent of the King County population. Among those who receive government and state benefits, 66 percent of them are considered “linguistically isolated.”
“When Asians come to the states, they struggle to express their feelings freely because of the language barrier,” Hashimoto said. “When they go to casinos, many workers and gamblers are Asians. They feel welcomed.”
Some treatment programs provide a comfortable atmosphere where problem gamblers can share their feelings. Gamblers Anonymous, for example, is a fellowship support group for both the gamblers and their families. Since the sessions are conducted in English, many immigrants may find it difficult to join.
There are other options. At Asian Counseling Referral Services, the agency offers services in 30 different languages. Currently, there are six agencies funded by the state to treat gambling addiction. Casinos such as Muckleshoot Indian Casino also contribute to these funds and awareness programs.
During treatments, Hashimoto advises the clients to build alternative skills, so they don’t feel the need to go back to casinos.
“Winning thousands [of dollars] is not really winning. It only reinforces their behavior. Humans have selective memory. We tend to remember the good, but not the bad,” Hashimoto said.
The counselor suggests the clients to write down and compare their wins and losses. When they compare the odds on paper, it’s a different scenario than what the brain is telling them.
“There are also spiritual solutions,” Hashimoto said. “For example, some people used to go to church. We don’t recommend a place or religion, but they have resources inside.”
An important focus for problem gambling counselors is to gain trust from their clients.
“We do not punish or place judgment on anyone,” Hashimoto said. “We try to help them regain control over their lives. Gambling itself is not a bad thing. Only when it is out of balance it becomes a problem.” ♦
For more information, visit www.acrs.org.
Sarah Yee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.