Whose problem is it? It’s all of ours

THE death of Brian Yao while his mother, Jie Yu, played poker machines followed a series of reported incidents involving Asian-Australians leaving their children in cars while they gambled.

It is unclear whether Asians have a greater problem with gambling than other ethnic groups. A small study done as part of research commissioned by the Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority found that Chinese-Australians were seven times more likely to gamble heavily than the wider community.

But this does not necessarily equate to gambling problems, says researcher Rick Yamine, because many Chinese have a high discretionary income and can afford their gambling. And usually, he says, they do not play the pokies, preferring traditional games such as pai gow and sic bo and lucky-number games such as roulette. He says Jie Yu’s case was not typical.

But Asians do make up a higher-than-expected proportion of families over whom there are gambling-related neglect notifications, according to Jenny McAuley, Victoria’s Assistant Director of Child Protection. “Our figures would reflect that the Asian community does struggle with gambling. Certainly this is reflected in the profile of people that are notified to our services … The Asian community is generally very aware of this problem, and is responding to it (by) supporting community members.”

But McAuley believes the problem of gambling-related neglect is probably under-reported, which means that the families who do enter the child-protection system might not be representative of what is happening in the wider community.

Ainslie Hannan, who contributed to the Playing for Time report, is concerned that Jie Yu and other Asians can be made scapegoats in the media for problems she believes are caused by state gaming policy and the availability of poker machines. (There are five pokies venues within a five-kilometre radius of Yu’s Ferntree Gully home).

Hannan says, “There’s a theory called the theory of exceptionality. It says that if there is a structure in the state that doesn’t work, like gaming policy, you get a marginalised group and say it’s about them, rather than saying it’s about the broader community and the amount of gaming … Who puts the state on trial?”

Julie Nelson, of Gamblers Help, says that viewing such a tragedy as a minority group’s problem helps ward off the anxiety a death such as Brian’s arouses in the community. “Part of that is about society saying, `It can’t happen to us; we are all normal. This couldn’t happen to me or anybody I know.”‘

Also see: Ending The Affair and Gambling With Life.

First published in The Age.