Illustration: Steven Moore
Australia is a culturally and linguistically diverse country. Almost half of our population are either born overseas or have one overseas-born parent, and migration has become the main source of population growth.
As well as being culturally and linguistically diverse, Australia has an established gambling culture, and the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest losers, with losses 40 per cent higher than our nearest rival, Singapore.
While the evidence base relating to gambling in Australia overall is quite robust, the evidence relating to culturally and linguistically diverse groups living within Australia is somewhat uneven, with most focus placed on Chinese and Aboriginal Australians.
What does ‘gambling’ mean?
The meaning of ‘gambling’ varies across cultures and locations. An activity Australians consider ‘gambling’ may be viewed by another culture as a ‘game’. For example, mah-jong is seen as gambling in the Australian majority culture, but in Chinese culture it is a game that has cognitive and social benefits, and is part of the fabric of cultural events and celebrations.
An activity Australians consider ‘gambling’ may be viewed by another culture as a ‘game’.
In addition, when translated into other languages, the word ‘gambling’ has different connotations and meanings. This, in turn, changes the meaning of the activity and how acceptable it is across different settings and cultures.
Lower levels of gambling, but higher risk of harm
Several studies about the prevalence of gambling have been conducted across Australia, but they pay very little attention to gambling participation in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The limited data available reveals that these groups often participate in gambling, but generally at a lower frequency than the mainstream Australian population.
Australia has an established gambling culture, and the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest losers.
While people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are less likely to gamble overall, those who do take part are at higher risk of developing problems with gambling compared to the general population.
Stress relating to migration can contribute to this risk. Settling in a new country can involve language difficulties, loneliness and isolation, and gambling may seem an easy way to forget these troubles while integrating with Australian culture.
International students are seen as a particularly vulnerable group, with a lack of oversight and stress related to the academic, financial and social pressures of studying abroad. Read more about the allure of gambling for international students.
The effects of stigma and shame
As with the various definitions of ‘gambling’, and different levels of acceptance of certain ‘gambling’ activities, the amount of stigma attached to participating in gambling can vary across cultures.
Those who do take part are at higher risk of developing problems with gambling compared to the general population.
For some cultures, any participation in gambling is enough to evoke shame and secrecy, while for others, shame may only occur if a problem develops. This may work as either a risk or a protective factor: it may be protective by preventing individuals from engaging in any form of gambling, but it may be a risk for those who do participate, increasing vulnerability and encouraging secretive behaviour. The ramifications of engaging in culturally unacceptable activities can be severe, and can affect the family as well as the individual.
Hurdles to seeking help
We know that in the general population, shame and stigma can be significant hurdles to seeking help for gambling problems. A culturally and linguistically diverse community’s views on gambling and gaming can also feed stigma and affect when and how people seek help. To compound this, counselling and therapy as available in Australia are distinctly Western concepts, which are sometimes foreign to culturally and linguistically diverse groups. Some communities prefer to deal with problems within the family or through cultural elders, only seeking outside help if it is beyond the ability of the family to fix, and well understood and known about.
Counselling and therapy as available in Australia are distinctly Western concepts.
When people do seek professional help, some may prefer to communicate in their own language with someone who understands their cultural background, while others may prefer to seek help outside the community to ensure confidentiality and limit the shame and stigma experienced by themselves and their family.
Help-seeking is complicated, and requires culturally sensitive and responsive services to adequately manage gambling harm within these groups.
This article summarises a discussion paper written for the Australian Gambling Research Centre at Australian Institute of Family Studies. Read more about the topic and download the paper: Gambling in culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia.
The Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW 1999, Gambling among members of ethnic communities in Sydney, Sydney.
Feldman, S, Radermacher, H, Anderson, C & Dickins, M 2014, A qualitative investigation of the experiences, attitudes and beliefs about gambling in the Chinese and Tamil communities in Victoria, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne.
Raylu, N, & Oei, TP 2004, ‘Role of culture in gambling and problem gambling’, Clinical Psychology Review, vol. 23, edn 8, pp. 1087–114.
Thomas, A, Moore, S, Kalé, S, Zlatevska, N, Spence, M, Staiger, P et al. 2011, International student gambling: The role of acculturation, gambling cognitions and social circumstances. Full technical report: A mixed-methods investigation of international student gambling, Gambling Research Australia, Melbourne.
Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority 2000, The impact of gaming on specific cultural groups, Melbourne