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Asian Americans and Problem Gambling Part I

Fellowship Story Showcase

Asian Americans and Problem Gambling Part I

Picture of Alicia DeLeon-Torres

Part I of Problem Gambling in the Asian American Communities of California focuses on the Dang families' journey through their mother's gambling addiction. I first met Cathy Dang at a UCLA class for social work. The topic for the day was 'Problem Gambling in the Asian American Community". She was not there to share statistics, high risk signs or re-tell stories she heard in the community. She was there to share her story - a story about a daugter living with a problem gambler whose despair took the hold of the hold of the whole family. Her family's experience covered the loss of time, business, money - and almost tore them apart.

The day Dang shared her story, she received a call. Her mother had relapsed and she needed to leave immediately to find her. Since then, her family has had more good days than bad. It wasn't always like that. As with other addictions, the temptation is always there. Dang remains vigilant. Her families experience has molded her future. She has become a staunch advocate for culturally competent and linguistically accessible services for problem gamblers and their families. Dang's continues to speak on gambling addiction and is currently working on policies that would not allow casinos to extend large amounts of credit to problem gamblers.

Sadly, her story is not uncommon.

Click here to to view part two of this series

Click here to to view part three of this series

Part I: Chasing the Dream into the Nightmare
Filipino Press
Saturday, November 20, 2010

By Alicia DeLeon-Torres
Contributing Staff Writer

Cathy Dang remembers taking family trips to Atlantic City at least ten times a year. Her parents would close their New York based business, give staff time off and load the family into the car. With each trip her parents would disappear into the casino, sometimes for days at a time.

"We would go to Atlantic City every holiday – even the Jewish holidays. We weren't even Jewish," exclaimed Dang.

At the age of 12, Dang's family moved to Los Angeles. The lure of casinos was even more inviting to her parents, especially her mom.

"When we lived in New York, we had to drive hours to get to a casino in New Jersey or Connecticut. In Southern California, the casinos and card rooms were everywhere – in San Diego, Temecula, L.A…everywhere," she shared. "During my high school years, we also went to Las Vegas. I wouldn't see my mom for hours, sometimes not until the next day. I'd find her wearing the same clothes she wore when we arrived and sitting in the same seat she first sat at. She never had to leave her seat to eat. The casino would have lunch and dinner delivered to her."

When Dang was in college, things got progressively worse for her mother. Sometimes her mom was able to stay away from the casinos. Other times, she'd be gone for days. Dang knew her mother was losing money, but she didn't know how much until she took over paying family and restaurant bills. She began to see that her mother withdrew large amounts of money from their bank account. The figures were staggering! Within one month her mother withdrew $50,000. The pattern continued.

Dang's background in clinical social welfare provided incredible insight into what she was dealing with. She knew the complicated mental health issues and coping mechanisms, or lack thereof, when dealing with her parents. Although her father was a social gambler (gambling for recreation only and able to fully control spending/betting), he was also an "enabler" (one who enables someone to continue by providing excuses for the person to continue their behavior or by doing nothing/avoidance). This, coupled with her mother having full control of the family bank account, led to disastrous consequences.

Dang's parents had invested all their money into their Southern California restaurant. It was taking more and more of the family money to keep it running, and Dang's time to work there before and after school. So she moved home her senior year in college. She wanted to be closer to her parents in order to keep watch over her mom, their restaurant and household responsibilities. The restaurant began taking a huge loss; her parents sank into deep depression.

"One day, while we were sitting in our car, my dad turned to me and said 'take care of your mom. I won't always be around,'" continued Dang, "In June of 2008, a week before my college internship for grad school was to start, I got a call from my mom who said my father wasn't waking up. My heart sank and I dropped to the ground. I rushed to the hospital. At first, I thought he had a heart attack or a stroke. The doctor said it was neither."

Dang's father regained consciousness and asked if they were pumping his stomach. He had taken what he thought were 60 sleeping pills.

Dang's mother had stopped gambling for a year previous. Her father's suicide attempt sent her mother into a deeper depression and gambling relapse. Soon after, her mother disappeared.

She somehow knew her mother would be at a Temecula casino. With tears streaming down her face, she walked through the casino and found her mother in the high limit room.

"If I stop now, I will die," her mom exclaimed, "Go home."

Instead, Dang went to her mother's hotel room and waited. Her mom never came. Dang went back to her mother, who was sitting in the same room at the same seat she had seen her the day before. She begged her mom to stop and come home. Her mother promised she would be home that evening. She never showed up. Due to her mother's extremely distraught state, Dang called the police and told them that her mother was a 5150 (a section in the California Welfare Code a danger to property, oneself and/or others). The police did nothing. Another day passed. At 7:00 a.m. the morning after, her mother called in hysterics. She was sorry for causing the problems for the family by losing so much money.

"During that one bout of gambling, sitting in that one room in the same chair, she initially lost $1,000. She took out $5,000 to try to win back the $1,000 she lost. She 'chased' her loss. Then, she borrowed from the casino; she took out a $30,000 loan – a marker – to try to win back her money," Dang explained. "That casino feeds on addiction. They should have never let her borrow the money."

Unfortunately, Cathy Dang's story is not limited to one ethnic group, one community or one family. It's becoming more common, especially in Southern California where casinos, card rooms and racetracks are abundant. Although, most gamblers are responsible.

During a San Diego after-school club presentation for 11-13 year olds, a group of 82 students (predominantly of Filipino-American descent) were educated on the signs of problem gambling. After the presentation, students were asked if, based on what they had learned, they thought someone they knew may be in danger of being a problem or pathological gambler. More than 80 percent raised their hands.

This is part one of a three part series. Part two appears next week and brings attention to current problem gambling trends, social implications on why some groups may be at higher risk, how some in the industry use cultural nuances to entice specific ethnic groups into their establishment, and also highlights those that practice 'responsible gaming'. Part three appears the following week and focuses on the signs of problem and pathological gambling, affordable treatment options and California State funded programs for those seeking help.