Chinese Wary of More Casinos in NYC

With Election Day approaching, a referendum on the ballot that asks voters whether New York should be able to build more casinos is a hot topic in Chinatown.

While Chinese immigrants can be avid gamblers, Chinatown leaders and residents don't think it would be a good idea for New York to build more casinos. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

While Chinese immigrants can be avid gamblers, Chinatown leaders and residents don’t think it would be a good idea for New York to build more casinos. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Chinese immigrants are known for their fervent interest in gambling. Many crimes or tragic accidents in the community are more or less related to the activity. In October 2010, Pan Hanmin, a gambling addict living in Brooklyn, killed his former wife’s sister and injured three other members of her family after they declined his request to borrow money.

In 2011, a casino bus crashed in the Bronx and all 15 passengers who died were Chinese. Cecilia Chang, a former dean at St. John’s University who committed suicide last year after she was sued for corruption, was believed to have spent the school’s money on gambling in Atlantic City. And most recently, Ming Don Chen, the suspect of a bloody murder in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in which a mother and her four kids were killed, is also believed to be addicted to gambling.

So what would the passage of the referendum, known as Proposition 1, bring to a community with all these wounds?

To Eddie Chiu, an advisor at Lin Sing Association, the picture wouldn’t be good. “I want to call on all Chinese voters to say no to this,” said Chiu. He said representatives from casinos came to his organization in the past to ask for his help recruiting Chinese employees but he declined. He added that the newly opened Resorts World Casino in Jamaica has already brought too much convenience to Chinese gamblers, who can now reduce their travel time to half an hour, compared to three or four hours to make it to casinos in nearby states. If there were more casinos close to home, the Chinese would spend more money there. “That’s the money they would otherwise spend on the mom and pop shops in Chinatown,” said Chiu.

Pauline Ng, director of the Open Door Senior Center, agrees. Ng said that what Albany cares about is the revenue. But not all Chinese who lose money in the casinos are rich. “Rich people may lose more money and poor people lose less. But they all lose time that they could have spent with families. And when they lose money, they’ll be in a bad mood and they may fight with their families. That’s why so many Chinese families have been shattered by gambling,” said Ng.

Ng also thinks casinos close to home would encourage more Chinese to head there to gamble. “We Chinese have a saying: Those who stay close to red turn red, and those who stay close to black turn black. It’s hard for people to resist when temptation is close,” she said.

Edward Ma, a psychiatrist, also thinks more casinos would produce more gamblers. “If your neighbor is a gambler, they would probably end up being a bad influence,” he said. Ma also pointed out that gambling is becoming such a popular hobby among Chinese immigrants because they have to deal with great pressures in the U.S. and there is few entertainment in the community for them.

Ma said he once met a cook on a casino bus when he took his relatives from abroad to visit Atlantic City. The cook showed off a stash of $3,000 in cash and told Ma he would spend all the money in the casinos overnight. “Chinese immigrants are already very vulnerable. To provide them more convenience when it comes to gambling could only make things worse,” said Ma.

Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, said the most urgent task for Chinatown is not to stop more casinos but to regulate the casino buses that come here all the time to pick up the gamblers. “The bus industry is helpful to the local economy and I support it. But casino buses can only bring harm. And I don’t like to see them here,” he said.

But Mr. Wong, who runs a coffee shop in Chinatown, said even without the casinos there are already a lot of underground gambling sites here. Also, even if the Chinese were not spending money in casinos, they’d save it in the bank instead of spending it in the community. So to build more casinos or not does not matter to his business.

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