As Asia Media Centre’s Lee Seabrook-Suckling recalls his grandfather’s gambling problem, he takes a wider look at why Asian Kiwis are susceptible to problem gambling.
Growing up as a young child in Canterbury, I have fond memories of visiting my grandfather, who was Chinese, at his large rural homestead. “Grandad is rich!”, my brothers and I used to muse on the tree-lined drive into his property.
By the time Grandad died when I was age 12, he was living in a caravan park. His wife, my step-grandmother, had left him and returned to the Philippines as their relationship had been torn apart. The reason he went from Saudi Arabia extravagant riches to lonely rags? Like many other Asian Kiwis, he was a gambler.
During the first Coronavirus lockdown in New Zealand, 49.8 per cent of New Zealanders of Asian descent engaged in online gambling. According to a poll by Asian Family Services, this is significantly higher than the general national average – which is only 30.2 per cent.
Sixty-six per cent of Asians in New Zealand have participated in gambling in the last 12 months. The most likely activities are buying a Lotto, Strike, or Powerball ticket. From flashy casinos to online poker, gambling comes with a dopamine hit and is accompanied by a satisfying feeling of being lucky improving one’s quality of life through monetary gain.
Local studies have found Asian communities in New Zealand are vulnerable to gambling addiction for cultural reasons. According to research by the University of Auckland, Asian people are susceptible gamblers because of their “cultural beliefs and values in superstition and luck”. As the Chinese have these notions well-embedded in their culture, they are the most predisposed group of all Asian ethnicities.
The Chinese have a saying: “If you don’t gamble, you don’t know how lucky you are”. This references the compulsive and addictive nature of gambling and how entwined games such as mahjong, poker, blackjack, and dice games are with Chinese values of luck, numerology, fate, and fortune. According to Psychology Today, winning (and, thus, losing) in Chinese culture comes with a heavier sense of identification than in the West and can be very tied up with one’s sense of self.
Researcher Andrew Zhu, who conducted the Asian Family Services poll, says, “in most Asian countries, the lottery is promoted as a charitable act (as well as in New Zealand). Among the 20 people interviewed, none of them classified themselves as a gambler and they believed…