New immigrants are especially prone to developing gambling addictions, and a Toronto casino could make things worse: That was the message Friday afternoon at a talk about problem gambling at Toronto Western Hospital.
“There are certain stresses new immigrants face—from underemployment to loss of professional status—and they often see gambling as an easy solution,” said Maria Benevides, a clinician with the hospital’s Portuguese Mental Health and Addictions program, and one of the community workers who spoke to a half-full auditorium of new Canadians about rolling the dice. “You don’t really need to know languages to play the slots or cards. Betting is universal. If there’s a casino entertainment complex in the city, it will encourage immigrants to go.”
Back in 1988, the Toronto District Health Council recommended that counselling services for gambling be offered in languages other than just English and French. Since then, CAMH’s Problem Gambling Project and multicultural agency COSTI Immigrant Services have teamed up, and now offer help in 19 languages. Still, Benevides said, “few people want to come out and talk about it.”
That’s not only because the services are still relatively unknown, but also because many immigrants feel “shame, guilt, and embarrassment” admitting they have gambling addictions, said Farishta Dinshaw, a COSTI community development worker.
If any of those in the audience had struggled with addiction, they weren’t saying. “I don’t think the casino is bad for us,” an elderly Chinese woman said. “It’s a relaxing social [activity], as long as you know how to control yourself.”
One Hispanic woman agreed. “They make me feel free,” she confessed, with an embarrassed chuckle.