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Feeling lucky?

20th October 2016

Catherine delves into cultural perceptions of luck and contemplates why gambling might be a big issue for the Chinese community.

It’s been recognised for a while that the Chinese community may be particularly vulnerable to gambling-related harm, and yet they are pretty much the least likely group to seek help if a problem develops.

The ideas of luck, fate and chance hold a fascination for people with a Chinese background – the number eight is traditionally considered especially lucky, and in an Australian study from 2000 the main reason for Chinese people to gamble was to ‘test their luck’. One participant was quoted: “We have this saying in Chinese: if you don’t gamble, you don’t know how lucky you are.”

In an article in the Guardian in 2012, one person said: “It’s in our culture… Being on shift work makes us vulnerable, but it is also in our superstition. We let our children gamble at New Year. Right from the start we want to find out if it is going to be their lucky year."

The idea of being vulnerable on shift work is also valid – if you are already isolated by your working patterns, and may also have difficulty with language and other cultural barriers, gambling may be something you turn to in order to feel inclusion.

So why might it be extra difficult for someone from a Chinese background to seek help if gambling becomes problematic for them? The idea of ‘saving face’ seems to be very important. Bill Lee, as quoted in an LA Times article in 2006, says: “It’s shameful to be emotionally weak… It’s not acceptable.”

So to save face, many families will pay off debts for the gambler, including to loan sharks, rather than seek help through counselling or therapy.

There also isn’t really a direct translation for ‘counselling’ in Chinese, so many people are distrustful that it can really be helpful, or that what they share will really be confidential (it really, really is).

Talking to a counsellor is never weak, and it can help – you can work through your situation and your feelings with someone trained to listen with empathy, and they can help you understand your behaviour better so you can make changes if you want to. GamCare services are not a ‘quick fix’, but our counselling will help you find context for why gambling is causing harm for you or those close to you.

GamCare Partner, The Chinese National Healthy Living Centre (CNHLC), offers multi-lingual counselling and treatment programmes for anyone experiencing issues with gambling.

The service in Soho Square provides counselling in Cantonese, Mandarin or in English, and this is offered along with other health and wellbeing services. People can choose either face to face, online or telephone counselling. Friends and family of someone struggling with problem gambling can also access the service.

The National Gambling HelpLine is also able to offer multi-lingual support through LanguageLine. To speak with an Adviser call free on 0808 8020 133.

Want to know more? Here's a short video project from the British Chinese Project.