As a young boy, Supervisor Norman Yee said he always wondered where his mother would go when she left for hours, sometimes days, at a time.
It wasn’t until Yee became an adult that he realized his mother showed the signs of a problem gambler, often staying out late to gamble in Chinatown or traveling to out-of-town casinos to fuel her addiction, Yee said.
“Fortunately, we’re a strong family and we survived through this, but what was missing for us was a mother,” Yee said.
Yee shared his personal experience with problem gambling at City Hall on Tuesday to shed light on what he called a growing issue in San Francisco and nationwide.
Some six million Americans, including 1.2 million Californians, are considered problem gamblers, Yee said.
Of those struggling with a gambling addiction, it’s estimated that only 15 percent seek help, with the Chinese American community facing the highest rates of problem gambling compared to the general population.
“While this issue is a tough concern in the Chinese community, problem gambling can happen to anyone across different ethnicities and socioeconomic groups,” Yee said.
Problem gambling has only worsened with the increased popularity of online gambling sites, Yee said.
“To me, this is even more crucial, more critical of an issue because now we have a new population that is being affected by all of this,” Yee said.
Kent Woo, executive director of the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, said Tuesday that the group has taken steps to curb problem gambling. He said the organization first realized the full extent of gambling addictions when a 1997 study revealed that nearly 70 percent of respondents in San Francisco listed problem gambling as the largest issue facing their community.
The coalition has since created the Chinese Community Problem Gambling Project with help from the state’s Department of Public Health, Woo said. The project established a helpline for those struggling with a gambling addiction, offering services in English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the Bay Area and throughout the state.
Woo said that around 50 percent of the people who seek treatment for problem gambling overcome their addiction.
“You’re chances of going into treatment and overcoming a gambling addiction is better than your chances of winning any one of the games at a casino,” Woo said.
As part of his efforts to call attention to problem gambling, Yee authored a resolution to recognize March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month in San Francisco, which was set to go before the Board of Supervisors later Tuesday.
The City has struggled with gambling issues in the past, including a crackdown down on illegal gambling shacks in the Excelsior district last October, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.