Are Asians More Susceptible to Gambling?


From flashing casinos to poker on the phone, there’s something about gambling that makes it so attractive. Maybe it is the satisfying feeling of being lucky, that the gambler has beat the system and broken the fact that ‘the house always wins’. Maybe it is the lure of easy money that can make one dollar magically transform into $1000 pleasurably, with minimum effort. Or perhaps addiction comes with the rush that gambling offers. Regardless of the underlying reason, the overall is a narcissistic one, as explained by psychologists.

There is a strong link between narcissism and those who are likely to develop a gambling problem. It has to do with “overconfidence, heightened risk acceptance, and myopic focus on reward”. It is a pathological problem that functions similarly to that of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and displays itself in a myriad of symptoms that include but is not limited to committing crimes in order to continue gambling, being distraught when unable to gamble and fantasizing about gambling and past experiences frequently.

Each country and every culture have their own sort of vice. Horse racing in the West and virtual red packets in the East. Back in 2014, China’s WeChat app released a service entitled Hong Bao which translates to red packet or red envelope. It is a customary practice of the Chinese to give monetary gifts during weddings, birthdays and the Lunar New Year, these gifts are traditionally wrapped in red for prosperity. However, this online feature has become abused as the service allows senders to post a red envelop into a group chat and generate a random amount for each user who opens it until the total is spent.

This quickly escalated into a full blown lottery pool, with fairly simple rules: “the group member who receives the least amount of money is required to start the next round by issuing a Hong Bao envelope containing an amount equal to or greater than the amount he/she received”. The member who is allocated the highest amount naturally wins the round.

Over in Japan, gambling takes its form in a machine filled with shiny pellets, bright flashing lights and blaringly happy sounds. It is the pachinko. An estimate of 3.2 million Japanese are addicted to some form of gambling. While technically illegal, it has not stopped close to twelve thousand pachinko parlours to exist in Japan. It is excused from the criminal code due to historical and cultural value, and to discourage its association with gambling, the money is not dispensed at the parlour itself. The player has to exchange their metal pellets for a chip and go to a different building to exchange the chip for currency.

The entrepreneurial South Koreans have discovered the lucrative business of setting up gambling services in Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia as South Korea itself has a strict ban on gambling and have significantly heavier penalties than the aforementioned countries. They take bets not only from their own countrymen, but from Americans and Australians alike.

Problem gamblers are comparatively low in Great Britain, with reports of 600,000 from NHS Choices (National Health Service), UK’s biggest website on health. While it is still a substantial amount, it is significantly lower than their Eastern counterparts. However, they also have their fair share of options through legal horse races, lotteries, casinos and online betting through the likes of NetBet Casino, Slot Boss, and many more.

So are Asians more susceptible to gambling? A report published by Dr. Amritha Soburn-Maharaj, Dr. Fiona Rossen and Ms. Anita Shiu Wei Wong for The Ministry of Health of New Zealand, seems to suggest so. Entitled ‘The Impact of Gambling and Problem Gambling on Asian Families and Communities in New Zealand’, it explores how gambling could put a strain on both the Asian community in the country and the strain on the health services provided.

It is reported that Asians fall prey easily to gambling due to their “cultural beliefs and values such as superstition and luck”, the most susceptible ethnic group being the Chinese, having gambling seemingly integrated into their culture. During the Lunar New Year, houses become gambling dens filled with tables offering mahjong, poker, blackjack and various dice games.

There is an easy fix, according to Science Daily. Simple education will help curb gambling addiction when it comes to digital games. There was a study at University of Wanderloo that educated players on how games disguised losses as wins (LDWs) and players who are aware of such tactics find the whole gambling culture and experience a lot more negative than those who have not been exposed to LDWs. However, this only works on new players as experienced players already has misconceptions deeply embedded in their minds.

With early exposure and proper education on what gambling entails, the research “show a way in which we can lead slots gamblers to have a more realistic view of the gambling experience and possibly prevent problems down the road”.

The problem with the research is that it only works on slot machines; part of the Western world and far from Asian preferences. Therefore, there is reason as to why Asians are more susceptible to gambling: culture, convenience and competition.  

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