Unpacking the root causes of gambling in the Asian community: Contesting the myth of the Asian gambling culture

Research and Data
Author(s): Colby, M. H., Hires, B., Le, L., Sauma, D., Yau, M. Y., Chu, M. T., & Rubin, H. L.
Year Published: 2022


The purpose of this report is to leverage community and academic expertise and experience to address the systemic issues that contribute to and exacerbate problem gambling as an important and urgent issue in the Asian community in the Greater Boston region. Over the course of 18 months, bilingual/bicultural community fieldworkers collected 40 in depth interviews from community members.




  • Over 80% of the interviewees were aware of the buses within their communities which would take individuals to the casino.
  • 65% of interviewees discussed the motivation to gamble for entertainment and the social aspect of gambling.
  • 60% of interviewees thought that gamblers gambled to earn quick easy money.
      • ♦ Less than 20% of interviewees mentioned gambling to earn money for improving family finances.
  • 40% of interviewees mentioning boredom as a reason for gambling.
  • 25% of the interviewees discussed a lack of alternative entertainment options as the reason why people go to the casinos.
  • Over 20% of the interviews brought up gambling as a way to relax and relieve stress.


  • 83% of participants stressed the potential for financial difficulties due to gambling. 
  • 65% of the respondents believed that gambling had negative impacts on families.
  • 55% of interviewees listed domestic violence (whether physical, verbal, or emotional) as a side effect of gambling.
  • 33% of the interviewees spoke about gambling causing the mental health of the gambler, the family, or both to deteriorate due to the negative impacts of gambling.
  • 15% of interviewees mentioned death and suicide as an impact of problem gambling.
  • Additional identified impacts of gambling include:
      • 73% stated negative impacts to children.
      • 45% stated divorce/ separation.
      • 33% stated family/ child neglect.
      • 15% stated bad reputation/ shaming.


  • 65% of the interviewees felt they were unsure of where to seek help if it was needed. 
  • 20% stated that the Asian community get their news and information from trusted community organizations that spoke the language of these immigrant populations.


  • Interviewees identified gambling locations, including:
      • 83% stated casinos.
      • 35% stated small shops (lottery tickets).
      • 30% stated in homes.
      • ♦ 13% stated private places (described as where the serious gamblers went).
      • ♦ 10% stated illegally in underground casinos.
      • ♦ 5% stated clubs and/or parks.


  • Types of gambling identified by interviewees include:
      • ♦ 78% stated casino games.
      • ♦ 43% stated lottery.
      • ♦ 35% stated Mahjong.
      • ♦ 30% stated sports betting.
      • ♦ 28% stated Keno, scratch tickets, and/or other games.
      • ♦ 15% stated poker and/or online gambling.


  • Interviewees identified places to seek money, including:
      • ♦ 65% ask friends.
      • ♦ 38% ask loan sharks.
      • ♦ 33% borrow from family.
      • ♦ 23% take out high interest loans.
      • ♦ 23% pawn items.
      • ♦ 15% sell property.
      • ♦ 13% work more jobs/ overtime.




  • Financial struggles ranged between asking for money from friends, taking out loans, using loan sharks, and complete financial ruin.


  • People chose to gamble as a shortcut to earning wealth. 
  • People chose to gamble to escape poverty and improve family finances (the dream of a better future). 
  • People choose to gamble for stress relief.
      • ♦ The stress relief was largely linked to work pressure and the heavy workload a lot of people feel. 
      • ♦ People “believe that gambling is a very relaxing thing.”
      • ♦ Escape, or distract, from the stress of real life.
  • Aging Asian Community
      • ♦ Interviewees noted many of them come from cultures that prioritize extended family, such as elderly playing an important role as caretakers of the younger generation. In modern American society, this important role is lost, leading many elderly to gambling to fill his void.
      • ♦ Some community elders will visit casinos to drink morning tea everyday to chat with friends. They also find the casino environment is good for walking, being warm in winter and cool in summer.
      • ♦ Elders in particular can be hard hit by gambling addiction because of their linguistic and social isolation.


  • Interviewees seemed to be skeptical about whether people would be willing to seek help.
  • Interviewees were particularly unsure about what resources were available.
  • Emphasis was placed on the importance and inclusion of family is essential in resolving gambling problems.
  • When asked who a gambler would seek help from, respondents tended to choose family members and relatives such as spouses, parents, and children.


  • The Cambodian community may not seek help due to embarrassment and worry about the opinions of others.
  • The Chinese community discusses gambling in terms of a recreational pastime but any discussion of actual problems is more taboo. Issues like financial debt, domestic ruin, and other struggles are viewed as personal and shameful rather than the gambling itself.
  • The Korean community doesn’t believe in mental illness. They don’t want their family member to have treatment for mental illness and prevent them to go to the therapist.


  • Problem gambling can create incredible stress on families leading to financial ruin/debt, domestic violence, child neglect, and even suicide.
  • Family arguments and the destruction of familial trust, causing undue stress.
  • Children lose trust in their parents and may be exposed to parental arguments and domestic violence.
  • Gambling problems may cause changes in people leading to a “violent mentality,” making the gambler more likely to vent and take out their stress and anger on their family.
  • Suicide – family member of the gambler who either threatened or completed suicide due to the stress and pain of dealing with their spouses gambling.
  • Uncontrolled gambling, often at a local casino, was at the root of the families’ financial problems.


  • Gambler’s mental health worsened due to wanting to win (chasing losses). 
  • Losing and becoming more and more in debt led to desperation, stress, and depression.


  • Asian communities frequent casinos because they felt welcomed and there were others who spoke their language.
  • Many respondents claimed to go to the casino with their friends, some making plans for weekend trips and activities.
  • Interviewees associated the casino buses with free food and vouchers for gambling.
  • Interviewees often brought up how tempting offers of “free stuff”, emphasizing the seductive nature of advertisements such as discount coupons and free food.


  • The root cause of women who were in painful situations of physical and emotional abuse stemmed from uncontrolled gambling by a spouse.




  • Boredom – Lack of alternative entertainment options.
  • Social Isolation – Language and cultural barriers.
  • Financial difficulties – working-class immigrants require English language and occupational skills.
  • Advertising – gambling special offers such as discounts and free food.
  • Unaware of support services.



  • Entertainment options such as singing, concerts, clubs, and recreational activities like ping-pong and dancing. 
  • Support services that speak the language.
  • Support personnel with lived experience.
  • Strong family support network.



  • In the Asian community, problem gambling is the “canary in the coal mine” pointing to larger, systemic problems with its root causes in poverty, social and cultural isolation due to immigration, stress, and language barriers.





  • Fund and invest in ethnic-based Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to develop and deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services and programs for prevention and intervention for problem gambling.
  • Partner with insurance companies to develop innovative reimbursement models for CBOs doing gambling treatment.
  • Invest in the neighborhoods where immigrants work, live, and play by creating spaces of belonging for immigrant communities where they can go for recreational and social opportunities that are safe.
  • Creative a workforce development program geared towards helping working-class immigrants gain the English and occupational skills to acquire gainful, meaningful employment with benefits and wages that enable them to live well and feel pride over their work.
  • Develop, ensure, and enforce rigorous cultural and language access standards for problem gambling services such as those following federal culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) standards.
  • Invest in community-engaged research in the Asian community that leads to actionable results for the community.


  • Fund an equity audit about responsible gambling and responsible advertising in the Asian community to assess and prevent any predatory practices.
  • Fund research or an equity audit of whether the casino buses are ethical and moral. Include key community leaders on a Steering Committee to design and oversee the equity audit.
  • Develop a Steering Committee of key community leaders to guide the development of policy, practice, and services around addressing the root causes of problem gambling.
  • Re-think and expand the definition and use of “mitigation funds” to address upstream causes of problem gambling.


  • Partner with Asian community advocacy groups to address the root causes of problem gambling, particularly workforce development, healthy family functioning, behavioral health, and child support.
  • Develop a referral network between government-sponsored helplines and community-based organizations.
  • Develop a national network of organizations addressing problem gambling in the Asian community.


  • Partner with existing linguistically and culturally appropriate community-based organizations to address problem gambling by developing a model of wrap-around services that include clinical and community-based care.
  • Train staff of community-based organizations to provide non-clinical, peer support to individuals and families facing problem gambling.
  • Train staff of community-based organizations to identify signs of serious problem gambling and to refer to healthcare clinics.


  • Fund and invest in ethnic-based CBOs to develop and deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services and programs for prevention and intervention for problem gambling.
  • Provide funding for family-focused and community-focused interventions.
  • Invest in organizations developing community-based interventions using a family systems approach that is tailored to account for ethnic and social heterogeneity characterizing the Asian community.



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Colby, M. H., Hires, B., Le, L., Sauma, D., Yau, M. Y., Chu, M. T., & Rubin, H. L. (2022). Unpacking the root causes of gambling in the Asian community: Contesting the myth of the Asian gambling culture. Frontiers in Public Health, 10, 956956.

Further Reading