Intervention is in the cards for Chinese gambling community

Central to Chinese culture is the idea of luck — a concept seen as a stream of good fortune that runs concurrently with jubilant times, such as the recent passing of the Lunar New Year.

Unfortunately, luck can also bring about unwelcome consequences — none more evident than the gambling wave some say is currently enveloping San Francisco’s Chinese community.

Motivated by a poll that found over 70 percent of Chinatown residents were concerned with gambling problems in their family, three Bay Area health centers have banded together to create Northern California’s first Chinese-speaking gambling counseling service, according to Kent Woo, executive director of the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, one of two San Francisco-based centers involved in the project.

The service, directed by the Chinese Community Problem Gambling Project, will provide counseling for problem gamblers, family members, and friends, Woo said.

“Taking risks is part of our culture,” said Woo. “We like to gamble, we like to celebrate. But too many times it gets out of control.”

According to the survey, which was conducted by telephone, 21 percent of Chinese adults in San Francisco fit the profile of a pathological gambler.

Approximately one-third of all domestic violence issues and divorce cases in San Francisco’s Chinese community can be traced back to gambling problems, Woo added.

Although the Chinese Community Problem Gambling Project was formed 10 years ago, last month marked the first time the program employed Chinese-speaking counselors to specifically address gambling issues, Woo said.

“This program is the most culturally-competent service we’ve offered,” Woo said. “In the past we would refer people to Gamblers Anonymous, but there are many aspects of that program that do not mesh well with elements of the Chinese culture.”

Tina Shum, counselor at the Donaldina Cameron House, a Chinatown-based community center involved in the project, said communications barriers have often kept Chinese problem gamblers from addressing their issues.

“For the people in this program, it’s very important to have someone speak their language,” Shum said. According to Woo, about 75 percent of The City’s Chinese problem gamblers lose their money to casinos.

“The casinos really target the Chinese population,” said Woo. “There seems to be a constant stream of buses in Chinatown picking up residents and packing them into casinos.”

Cean Burgeson, a representative of Cache Creek, a casino located outside of Sacramento, said that most casinos in Northern California market Asian populations because of the strong customer support.

“We are a business just like any other,” Burgeson said. “But we’re also required to mention support services like Gamblers Anonymous on all our marketing campaigns.”

wreisman@examiner.com

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