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Asian Americans and Problem Gambling Part III

Fellowship Story Showcase

Asian Americans and Problem Gambling Part III

Picture of Alicia DeLeon-Torres

Asian Americans and Problem Gambling: Answering the Cry for Help is the last in a three part series. The story focuses on the need for affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate problem/pathological gambling treatment programs.

Click here to view part one of this series

Click here to view part two of this series

Part III: Answering the cry for help
Filipino Press (San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles Counties)
Saturday, October 23, 2010

By Alicia DeLeon-Torres
Contributing Staff Writer

This article was produced as a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

John M. speaks in hushed tones. His eyes constantly look around the fast food restaurant. He haltingly pauses every time the door opens. At one point, he stops the conversation, takes out a textbook and pretends to study. He waves to an older Filipino gentleman walking out the door, then puts the book back into his computer bag.

"My mom would kill me if she knew I was talking to you. She likes to gamble. We thought it was just her way of having fun. She always seemed to be winning things. We never thought much of it. Then we lost our house and moved in with my cousin. We thought it was because of the mortgage crisis… like in the news. But I found out it wasn't. I overheard my mom and aunt arguing about it," John said. "We used to have a nice house. Now my whole family lives in two bedrooms at my cousin's house."

John is a freshman at a university in San Diego County. Like many Filipino college students, he still lives with his family. His mother's gambling is beginning to affect his grades, but he counts himself lucky that – despite their problems, he can still go to school on a student loan.

"I failed a couple of classes during my second semester. My parents don't know. They think I'm this good studious son because I'm always on campus 'studying'. I just don't like going home. It's too crowded. My auntie and mom are always arguing. It's loud and stressful," he said. "My mom makes really good money. Ha! At least she stills has a job. Don't see any of the money. My dad is hardly home and when he is, he says nothing. That doesn't help either. I wish I could go to college in another state."

John's story is not uncommon. Sadly, he is considered "lucky" by other Asians who have family members or friends who have experienced more dire consequences. The headlines are littered with problem gambling related tragedies:

* In 2006, Bong Joo Lee shot and killed his 5-year-old daughter before turning the gun on himself. He had been unemployed, recently divorced and had racked up more than $200,000.00 in gambling debts. That same year, Dae Kwon Yun poured fuel inside his Toyota Sequoia before setting it ablaze in downtown Los Angeles with himself and his two children inside.

* In 2007, David Lam strangled his wife with a necktie. Earlier that year, he had declared bankruptcy, had marital problems and had more than $50,000.00 in gambling debt.

* Terrence Watanabe, founder of the novelty company Oriental Trading Company, gambled away $204 million dollars at Las Vegas casinos in 2007. He sued and lost the suit against Harrah's Casino for allowing him to gamble while intoxicated. At last report, he was being sued for debts owed to casinos.

* Jose Antonio Sr. was convicted of killing his 19-year-old son, Jose Antonio Jr. in December 2008, after a drunken argument about a video game cord and money owed to the younger Antonio from his father, for gambling debts.
Gamblers are at a higher risk of suicide, stress-related illnesses, divorce, bankruptcy, arrests and incarceration. Those seeking help for their addiction usually do so when close to or in the midst of crisis. In many cases, the call for help initially doesn't come from the gambling addict, but from a concerned or aggravated family member. For years, immigrant or refugee Asians living in California have found the search for assistance is difficult. Many treatment providers didn't understand the cultural nuances or risk factors, much less speak the language needed by the gambling addict or their family.

Cathy Dang's family found it difficult to find support for her mom. They found one Asian Gamblers Anonymous (GA) group in Los Angeles County, but the facilitator spoke Chinese. Her mother spoke and read Vietnamese.

"I called several places, Asian providers, who I thought might have the services my mother needed – or at least knew of somewhere we could get help, but nothing until I found GA in LA County… far from our house. But we made the trip," Dang said.

After several years of advocacy by Asian American leaders, as well as families and individuals affected by gambling addiction, California State's Office of Problem Gambling (OPG) began to develop affordable culturally and linguistically options. In the first year of the project (July 1,2009 – June 30, 2010) using nationally recognized trainers on problem gambling and related issues, OPG had trained 226 licensed therapists across the state.

Therapists spoke 29 languages including Tagalog, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Taiwanese, Hindi, Punjabi, Farsi, Spanish, Italian, German, Hungarian and American Sign Language.

Terri Sue Canale, Deputy Director of the Office of Problem Gambling, acknowledges that they don't have all the languages needed nor are there culturally or linguistically competent therapists in every geographic area that are needed by individuals and families suffering from gambling addictions. However, she is hopeful that with her staff and community partners, they are able to outreach to other therapists with the needed language and cultural competency in areas needed.

"We have more training scheduled for 2010 in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and Sacramento. We provided training in San Francisco in 2009," Canale enthusiastically shares the rapid developments within the training program. "Tell your network, tell everyone who is, or knows a licensed therapist, that we will provide free training to treat problem or pathological gamblers, plus 30 Continuing Education Units. They just have to pay for their transportation and lodging, if needed, for the training. We want to add 200 new therapists to our roster by the end of the fiscal year."

Gamblers seeking help are eligible for eight free treatment sessions; however, they must meet criteria for problem or
pathological gambling set forth by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV – which are listed at the end of this article. Sessions are paid for by OPG's program. Additional sessions are available at additional cost, which varies based on therapist costs and client's income.

To access the continually growing list of OPG trained therapists and language availability, go to

San Francisco based NICOS Chinese Health Coalition offers two State funded programs: the Problem Gambling Telephone Intervention (Telephone Counseling) and the statewide Helpline.

Telephone Counseling is set to begin at the end of October 2010 with language availability in Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese. Michael Liao, program director, hopes to provide services in seven primary Asian languages including Tagalog and Korean. The program will be led by Dr. Eddie Chiu of RAMS, Inc. Individuals who call in, upon assessment, will be offered a choice of services including referral to a local treatment provider, materials, self-help booklet, face-to-face counseling (if based in San Francisco) or referral to residential treatment in Los Angeles. The program number is 1-888-968-7888.

"The quality of care is important to us. Our program is funded by OPG through UCLA and we offer the same eight free sessions," Liao said. "We also offer a deep understanding of the cultural needs and nuances of those seeking assistance. If clients need more than eight sessions, we offer more at sliding scale."

Kent Woo, executive director at NICOS, runs the Helpline: 1-888-968-9888

"The Helpline grew out of community response over a survey identifying gambling as a serious issue in our community over 10 years ago," Woo said. "While a majority of our calls come from the Bay Area, specifically Alameda and San Francisco, since we went statewide – we find that many of our calls now come from area codes 626 and 213 in Los Angeles County."

Both the Helpline and Telephone Counseling line are "loaded" with eights because eight is a lucky number in the Chinese culture.

Canale, Liao and Woo underscore the need for additional cultural and language specific services in many areas of the State.

"All the programs are pilot programs. Our goal is to have these programs become available for a longer period – as long as the need is there," Canale said. "We hear the call for more services. We're working on it!"

In order to be considered for eight free counseling sessions, individuals must meet DSM IV criteria for problem/pathological gambling, including persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. Preoccupation with gambling (e.g., preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)
2. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
3. Has repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling
4. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
5. Gambles as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression)
6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (chasing one's losses)
7. Lies to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
8. Has committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling
9. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
10. Relies on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling

For additional information or help, please call 1-800- GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) or call NICOS Helpline at 1-888-968-9888.