Edition #7: Cultural Diversity Week

Chinese lanterns in the shape of roosters against a night sky
Chinese lanterns in the shape of roosters against a night sky
Photo: iStock

The allure of gambling for international students

Read this article in Traditional Chinese: 賭博對國際學生的吸引力

Read this article in Simplified Chinese: 赌博对国际学生的诱惑力

Victoria’s strong Chinese history means Chinese New Year is a solid fixture on our festival calendar. This year, in regional areas and across Melbourne, Victorians saw the Year of the Rooster in with customary gusto. There were hawker stalls, dragon and lion processions, music, films and fireworks. In central Melbourne you could walk from Queen Victoria Market through to Chinatown, Federation Square and along the river at Southbank, soaking it all up.

Many gambling venues also took part in the celebrations, which always have a strong focus on blessings of prosperity and good fortune. These celebrations attract people caught up in the spirit of testing their luck for the coming year. But there is unfortunately a hidden demographic in Australia who are swayed by familiar reminders of home, and also vulnerable to gambling harm.

A hidden epidemic

Being an international student in a country where your native tongue is not spoken is never easy. For many international students, Chinese New Year can be a time of great homesickness. They seek out other Chinese students for camaraderie and some will visit the casino and other gambling venues, places that are bilingual, international and specifically cater to their festivals and culture.

Bear Lin works as a counsellor for Chinese Gambler’s Help, a service run by the Federation of Chinese Associations and funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation to assist Chinese people who are experiencing gambling harm.

Being an international student in a country where your native tongue is not spoken is never easy.

‘In China, gambling is illegal,’ Bear explains, ‘so it is done all underground, or under the table.’

When international students discover gambling is entirely legal here, they sometimes find it hard to resist. One of the most concerning trends Bear has noticed is that international gamblers seem to be getting younger and younger.

Escapism in a friendly and familiar environment

Bear highlights three types of international students with gambling problems.

The first are students whose families are extremely wealthy and well-connected, and who may have large sums deposited into their accounts every month for buying luxury items or investing in property. Next are students from hardworking middle-class families who have saved up for their child to go to university in Australia, yet have no idea what their children are up to so far away from home. Third, and most tragically, are economically disadvantaged students who must repay study loans they or their families have obtained through the black market, by working menial cleaning or catering jobs. These students might view gambling as an easy and immediate solution to their monetary problems.

They seek out other Chinese students for camaraderie and some will visit the casino and other gambling venues.

Often students begin by believing they’re just engaging in a little fun escapism.

Bear says some students even carry their mah jong sets to Australia. ‘Mah jong might be regarded as a game,’ she explains, ‘but once there is money on the table, it is no longer “just” a game.’

While there are no statistics showing levels of gambling in private households, or black-market gambling, Bear says heightened periods of gambling occur whenever there is a family reunion.

When it stops being a game

When a gambling problem becomes severe, students may find it difficult to afford basic amenities and accommodation, and their studies may suffer. Harm from gambling may also exacerbate the symptoms of existing mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

However, Chinese culture values self-control and discipline, so it is sometimes more difficult for students to even admit to themselves that they are in trouble until their situation gets out of hand. Bear says the Chinese community considers gambling as not only a personal shame, but a family shame. She has found that international students prefer to talk to friends about their gambling problems before seeking professional help.

The Chinese community considers gambling as not only a personal shame, but a family shame.

The concept of counselling is not well known in China, so counselling services are rarely used among Chinese students. However, talking to someone who is a specialist and understands what you are going through can help you recover and improve your life.

Bear compares counselling help with medical help – she tells young people that if they have a cold, they go see a doctor, so why shouldn’t they see a counsellor if they are experiencing gambling problems?

Helping students understand the risks and recover from harm

The Federation of Chinese Associations collaborates with the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation to direct people experiencing gambling harm to the appropriate cultural and linguistic resources. Members of the Chinese community can call the Gambler’s Help line on 1800 858 858 and ask to be referred to a counsellor who can help them in Mandarin or Cantonese.

One of the most shameful experiences an international student might face is telling their family they have a gambling problem, so counsellors like Bear will support students through this difficult process.

Talking to someone who is a specialist and understands what you are going through can help you recover and improve your life.

Chinese Gambler’s Help also conducts education programs on responsible gambling, especially during university orientation week. Bear says this year they will be focusing on more community education and public awareness.

‘If students know how to get help, they can make the decision to quit gambling.’

How to get help

For advice and support over the telephone, call the Gambler’s Help line on 1800 858 858. You can ask to be referred to someone who can help you in Mandarin or Cantonese.

You can contact Chinese Gambler’s Help on (03) 9650 1293 or email info@fca.fedsun.org to talk to someone in Mandarin or Cantonese.

Or you can telephone Chinese Peer Connection on 1300 755 878 to talk to a Chinese-speaking volunteer who has also experienced gambling harm.

Visit gamblershelp.com.au to find out more about how to get help in your language.

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