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On the bus, a warning for gamblers- The Boston Globe
2008-12-01
By Matt Carroll

The images on the video flicker past - Chinese dragons marching, rolling dice, cards being dealt, men betting at a table. The message is aimed at helping Asians who might be problem gamblers.

What is striking is where the five-minute video is shown - on buses, catering to Asians, that leave Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen, and other spots in Massachusetts for Mohegan Sun, the sprawling casino in Uncasville, Conn.

A coalition of concerned groups wants to catch the attention of Asians who might think they have a problem as they ride down to the casino. It alerts them to the signs and symptoms of problem gambling and tells them of resources for help, said Chien-Chi Huang of the state Council on Compulsive Gambling.

The video is not antigambling; it is about raising the awareness of the risk of developing gambling problems, Huang and others explained.

Problem gambling is a particularly difficult problem among Asians, they said, because it's seen as entertainment and a social activity, unlike some other cultures, which view it less benevolently.

"Gambling is very accepted in the community," said Huang. "Unfortunately, most don't realize that if you don't learn to do it safely or responsibly, it will cause many devastating impacts, not only financially, but also to your health. Relationships with your family will suffer."

The groups that helped produce or finance the video include the state council; Quincy Asian Resources Inc., a nonprofit that came up with the idea; Sunshine Travel, the bus line; and the casino itself.

While it might seem odd that a casino spends time, money, and energy dealing with problem gambling, casino officials said they recognize their responsibility to help people.

They see the video as one more piece of the puzzle in their efforts to reach problem gamblers.

Signs around the casino, on slot machines, even on ATM slips, alert gamblers to be wary and give them a number to call.

"We made this part of our business philosophy," said Jeffrey E. Hartmann, executive vice president of the casino.

Another part of that philosophy is catering to Asian gamblers.

In July 2007, it opened the $17 million Sunrise Square, a separate area within the casino.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the area is jammed with gamblers playing Asian games: Pai gow poker and pai gow tiles, where bets are placed as a dealer deals black tiles.

Crowds three and four deep crowd around the tables for sic bo, an ancient game played with three dice.

There are also many mini-baccarat tables, as well as a popular Chinese restaurant.

Casino officials declined to say how much the section earns, but note that about 50 buses a day - from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut - bring in Asians looking to gamble and have some fun. They include Vietnamese, Koreans, Laotians, and Filipinos, but most are Chinese.
Sunshine Travel buses make three round trips a day from two stops in Quincy. Buses also leave from Allston, Dorchester, Methuen, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Worcester, and Malden.

The round-trip ride from Quincy costs $15, and for passengers with a Players Card from the casino, the fare includes a $15 dining voucher and a $30 gambling voucher. (A person without the casino card receives the dining voucher and a $10 gambling voucher.)

A recent bus ride to the casino was a rolling picnic. Longtime acquaintances greeted one another boisterously as they climbed into the sold-out bus.

The passengers, almost all Asian, were middle-age or older, perhaps a reflection of the 9:45 a.m. pickup time at Presidents Plaza in Quincy. It left the casino to return at about 4:45 p.m.

As the bus began to roll, the anticompulsive gambling video was shown on small DVD screens above the seats. Depending on the audience, the DVD is dubbed in Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, or Khmer, all with English subtitles.

Few people seemed to pay attention, with most preoccupied with chatting with neighbors, reading newspapers, or munching on snacks. But that's all right, said some officials, hoping that the message at some point will sink in to those with a problem.

The video starts with a scene of people having fun while gambling. Speakers, including Ernie Wu from Mohegan, note that gambling has a long history in Asian culture and traditionally is viewed as entertainment. Moderate gambling is seen as a social activity.

The video notes that gambling is not risk-free, and signs of compulsive gambling are listed, such as using food or rent money, or lying about gambling.

It can lead to problems at home, such as divorce or domestic violence.

The message is intentionally a soft sell, but makes its point: Gambling for the most part is fun and harmless, but some people have a problem and need to get help. It ends on an up note - facing reality brings hope.

If the video took a hard line, people would tune it out, said John Brothers, executive director of Quincy Asian Resources.

The video ran for the month of October, will not run during November and December, and will return again in January.

The idea is to give people a break so they don't get tired of seeing the message.