Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities


Attitudes about gambling vary by cultural group. Those from Arabic, Greek, Italian and Spanish cultures are more likely to view gambling as a social activity and source of entertainment that they prefer to participate in at home or in cafes. Asian groups, particularly Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean, however, are more apt to view gambling as an opportunity to “try their luck” and to seek a change in fortune. They prefer to gamble in casinos and to play electronic gaming machines in clubs.

This means that treatment for problem gambling can’t be the same for everyone. The following information can shed light on why many people don’t seek treatment. It’s important to understand and be sensitive to your client’s culture when trying to treat them and their families.

How Are Casinos Viewed?
Many gamblers have migrated from countries where casinos and electronic gaming machines were not available. When they arrive here, they may have the temptation to try them. They may view gambling as a chance to make money quickly.

People from Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic and Turkish cultures report feeling particularly comfortable at casinos. They find the environment, which includes patrons from many different cultures, to be conducive to socializing without the need to have a strong command of the English language. Other types of gaming venues offer many of the same characteristics as casinos.

Why Does Gambling Become a Problem?
The experience of migration can be difficult and lonely, with reduced access to family, employment opportunities and cultural links. Compared to the members of the greater community, immigrants can be more emotionally and financially vulnerable to developing gambling problems. Due to fragile support networks, these problem gamblers may be more likely to suffer from gambling-induced homelessness, debt and family breakdown. While all new immigrants are vulnerable to becoming problem gamblers, refugees are particularly at risk.

Why Don’t They Seek Help for Problem Gambling?
There are several reasons why members of cultural groups do not seek treatment. Community attitudes play a significant role on whether one seeks counseling for gambling, as do cultural and language barriers. While some close-knit communities offer help, their closeness can prevent problem gamblers from seeking help because they fear being stigmatized within the community.

Many cultural groups prefer to see bilingual therapists rather than Western-based health therapists. They feel more comfortable talking to someone who speaks their language and who can understand their culture rather than to a treatment specialist from a mainstream gambling service.

Some of the most common barriers to seeking treatment include:

    • A lack of proficiency in the English language, which can result in limited knowledge of services and a preference for bilingual health and welfare staff who may not be available to them
    • The perception that mainstream agencies lack a cultural understanding of their community, family and religious circumstances, and the way a gambling addiction impacts them
    • Discomfort with one-to-one counseling, which can seem like an unusual way to work on problems for those more accustomed to communal forms of problem solving
    • The existence of shame and stigma, which often prevent people from acknowledging their gambling problem, particularly when such behavior is denounced by their religion
    • The guilt associated with behavior that goes against religious norms and expectations

The Role of Interpreters
Interpreters can be helpful in engaging clients across the system. However, some clients prefer to use a bilingual counselor rather than an interpreter. They have concerns about the accuracy of translation and fear that gaps in the conversation impinge on the closeness of the counselor-client relationship. Confidentiality is another concern, particularly in smaller communities where agency staff may know their clients in the greater community context.

It’s important to assure clients that interpretive services are bound by strict confidentiality agreements. When possible, provide the option of a bilingual counselor in a nearby location if your client seems uncomfortable with the use of an interpreter.

Differing Treatment Expectations
According to representatives in Chinese and Vietnamese communities, people may expect “quick fix” solutions or what they consider to be “real assistance.” The solutions offered by mainstream counselors may be seen by these communities as abstract. The result is that people may feel disappointed and see counseling as an irrelevant service.

The process of counseling — and the questions that are asked — can make members of certain cultural groups uncomfortable. They may cry after sessions and feel depressed and annoyed.

The meaning of the word “counseling” can be an issue. For example, the word is rarely used in China, and people may have a negative feeling about it. When referring clients for counseling, it is a good idea to explain exactly what the counselor can offer and how this will help their situation (Australian Vietnamese Women’s Welfare Association 1998).1

Cultural challenges may exist with regard to the age of the counselor. It can be difficult for an older client to seek advice from a younger counselor in communities where age is a mark of status.

What Assistance Does California’s Problem Gambling Helpline Services Provide to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities?
California has gambling services that employ a number of multilingual counselors, as well as translators who provide language-specific services. A wide range of languages is covered by the translators, including Vietnamese, Mien, Hmong, Spanish, Korean, French, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Farsi – Afghani, Farsi – Persian/Iranian (same geographic name, ‘Persia’ is the historical name), Chinese – Cantonese, Chinese – Mandarin, Armenian, Russian, and Tagalog. Call 1-800-GAMBLER (426-2537) for problem gambling help.

For more information about problem gambling in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, please see here:

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