Gambling in culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia

Content type
Research snapshot

October 2016


This paper examines the available literature about gambling participation within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Australia.

Key messages

  • CALD communities within developed nations—including Australia—tend to participate in gambling less than the overall population, but those who do gamble may be more likely to experience problems.

  • CALD people who gamble may be more likely to develop problems than individuals from the general population due to different beliefs about luck and chance, factors relating to migration, and issues around stigma and shame.

  • Stigma and shame can create considerable barriers to help seeking in CALD communities.

  • Increased access to gambling and migration stressors may increase the chance that migrants might gamble, placing them at additional risk of developing problems.

  • Both specific CALD and culturally appropriate mainstream gambling help services are needed to support CALD gamblers and their families.

Australia—a culturally and linguistically diverse country

Australia is a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) country. Australians originate from over 250 ancestries and speak almost 400 different languages at home.4 Historically, the majority of Australia’s migration has come from Europe; however, the most common birthplaces of recent migrants are China and India.5

Gambling is perceived to be a part of “Aussie” culture, and migrants often see gambling as a way to integrate themselves into Australia’s culture and lifestyle.12

This picture, however, is not the same across all cultures within Australia. This discussion paper seeks to examine gambling across CALD communities.

Gambling research in CALD communities

The evidence base related to gambling within many Western cultures, including Australia, is now quite large. In contrast, the evidence base for CALD groups living within these majority cultures remains limited. There are several explanations for the limited amount of culturally specific gambling research.

The first issue faced when conducting research with CALD groups is the difficulty in clearly defining a cultural group. Differences in culture and environment can also limit the generalisability of individual study findings to other communities or locations.27

Even when researchers are sensitised to the cultural nuances, there are other difficulties. For example, many cultural groups attach a significant amount of stigma to gambling and/or gambling problems, making it difficult to recruit research subjects.

The research critiqued in this discussion paper, therefore, reflects a limited and uneven research base.

Differential attitudes to gambling activities across cultures

Gambling is …

Not accepted

  • Russian—“reprehensible pastime”
  • Tamil—not part of the culture, a sin

Somewhat accepted

  • Arabic—a source of entertainment and refuge but also of shame, a source of quick money
  • Caribbean—not universally accepted but seen as part of one’s status, considered manly
  • Italian—an individual pastime (apart from cards, which is seen as a social activity) and not generally shared with the family
  • Latin American—not universally accepted but seen as part of one’s status, considered manly
  • Macedonian—an enjoyable activity, which sometimes results in feelings of shame


  • Aboriginal (Australia)—a source of pleasure and fun, a way to make money
  • Chinese—positive, part of the culture, a way to “test one’s luck”, and a source of quick money
  • Croatian—traditional pastime, a source of personal entertainment
  • Greek—traditional pastime, an enjoyable form of social contact and entertainment shared with family and friends, a source of quick money
  • Hispanic—a pleasurable hobby or social activity, part of one’s status, considered manly
  • Korean—a way to escape, a pleasurable and social activity
  • Maori—not historically part of the culture but a common pastime currently
  • Pacific/Samoan—an enjoyable, sociable activity
  • Vietnamese—an enjoyable activity, a source of quick money, a game of luck and skill

Sources1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 29, 33, 34, 35, 36

Gambling participation

Some forms of gambling are highly entwined with culture—mahjong, for example, is closely associated with Chinese social customs—and play on these forms of gambling is accepted and, in some cases, actively encouraged.21, 38 The Chinese do not view mahjong as gambling, despite it involving staking something of value.

Card games are similarly viewed as an important, traditional, social activity for some other groups including Indigenous peoples in Australia and Greek communities.11, 13

Gambling problems and CALD communities

A growing body of research suggests that while those from CALD communities are less likely to take part in gambling activities overall, those who do gamble are at significantly greater risk of developing problems with their gambling.8, 16, 25, 30, 35, 38

A report released by the Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority (VCGA) indicated that while people from Arabic, Chinese and Greek communities gambled less than a sample of the general Australian population, those who did gamble were up to seven times more likely than Australian gamblers to develop severe problems with gambling.35 It has also been estimated that in the Australian Chinese community, problem gambling rates are between two and eight times higher than in the general population.6, 35 A study from 1998 found that up to one fifth of Asian respondents described a family member as having a problem with gambling.6

The research presented here, therefore, suggests that individuals from CALD groups may be at higher risk of gambling problems than their mainstream-culture counterparts. The extent to which this applies and why this might be the case is still unclear. The prevalence rates of problem gambling in different CALD groups remain relatively unknown as little research has been completed, the majority of the research occurred some time ago, it was not applied evenly to different groups or regions, and none of the studies completed to date contained representative samples.

CALD-specific gambling issues

A range of factors that affect CALD participation and engagement in gambling has been discussed in the literature. Some factors are thought to apply to multiple CALD groups, others are more culturally specific.

Beliefs about luck and chance

All societies have views and beliefs about luck, chance and good fortune. Within the context of gambling, these views are important as they affect how individuals from that culture will approach games that are based largely on chance.19, 22, 23, 30 While some beliefs regarding luck and chance in gambling are unique to a particular culture, there is evidence to suggest there are also some beliefs that are common across cultures.12, 22 For example, almost all cultures consider winning to be proof that one is lucky.22

Some beliefs about luck and chance are strongly influenced by the religion or spiritual beliefs of the culture in question (e.g. praying to the Chinese god of wealth Cáishén).20, 22, 29, 30 In some cultures, such as Vietnamese and Chinese, luck is inextricably linked with one’s character. Therefore, a display of good luck through gambling wins provides evidence to others of an individual’s good character.22

Strategies for “lucky” gambling

  • Choosing a lucky table/machine/dealer/player
  • Switching to a different table/machine if money is not won
  • Taking a break to eat, drink or use the bathroom to allow luck to change
  • Washing away bad luck
  • Using lucky numbers
  • Bringing along, or gambling with, lucky friends/acquaintances
  • Being generous or wishing others good luck
  • Being surrounded by lucky gamblers
  • Praying
  • Following signs from celestial calendar or oracle

Sources14, 20, 22

Beliefs about luck and chance can lead to erroneous or irrational beliefs about gambling outcomes. For example, distorted beliefs can lead to disproportionate feelings of control over a gambling outcome,21 and this can affect how people gamble. An individual, for example, may think that gambling on lucky numbers, colours or days gives them a better chance of winning or that using particular rituals provides them with an edge, leading to larger and more risky betting.

Within the Australian context, people from Chinese cultural backgrounds have been shown to have stronger beliefs in their ability to control the outcome of their gambling, compared to a Caucasian group.19 This finding coheres with another Australian study examining gambling in international and domestic students, which found that international students as a group had a stronger tendency to report distorted beliefs about gambling than their domestic counterparts.30

Migrants as a risk group

Specific factors are argued to increase the chance that migrants might gamble, placing them at additional risk of developing problems: welcoming gambling environments, increased exposure and access, and migration stressors.

Welcoming environments

For many new arrivals to Westernised countries, a lack of culturally appropriate activities for entertainment (particularly during the evening) may result in visits to gambling venues.7, 12, 20, 29 Casinos, for example, pay specific attention to providing a venue that is perceived as safe, attractive and culturally sensitive for individuals from CALD communities. Many casinos offer culturally specific food, drink and entertainment (including gambling games) that are inexpensive and designed to make people from a wide variety of minority cultures feel welcome. Decor is designed in such a way as to be appealing and glamorous, and casinos are open very long hours, mimicking the busy nightlife exhibited in many cities overseas. In addition, there is a clear security presence and many people around, allowing patrons to feel safe and secure within the casino environment.

It is thought these casinos may be particularly attractive to those who have recently arrived from a country with a distinctly different culture or those who have not integrated well into the majority culture.7, 8, 12, 29, 30, 33, 35

Increased exposure and access

There is relatively high accessibility to a wide variety of gambling activities within Australia compared to many other countries, in particular Asian and Muslim majority countries.30 Cross-sectional studies have found that high accessibility to gambling is positively related to uptake and frequency of gambling as well as gambling problems.10, 17, 28, 31

Migration stressors

Some argue that the experience of migration and its related stress may also lead to gambling problems in those who gamble.20, 30, 38 Stressors that are characteristic of the migration process and which may put gamblers at risk of developing a problem include the loss of support networks (e.g., family and friends), the strain of communicating in a foreign language, anxiety about academic or financial success, boredom and changes to lifestyle.12, 26, 29, 30, 37

International students have been found to be particularly vulnerable to developing gambling problems.12, 17, 30, 32, 38

Stigma and shame

As discussed earlier, there is a large amount of variation in the cultural acceptance of gambling and gambling problems. For many societies and cultures, a significant amount of shame and stigma is attached to gambling. For some communities, any participation in gambling is cause for shame and secrecy.12, 24 For some this may work as a protective factor, preventing them from engaging in any form of gambling.

For individuals who choose to gamble, however, stigma and shame may increase vulnerability as the extent of the gambling is often hidden from family and friends, along with any subsequent issues that may arise. This means that significant others are unable to provide assistance to the gambler until considerable harm is done.

The ramifications for engaging in unacceptable behaviour in particular cultures can be severe. For collectivistic cultures where the group is prioritised over the individual, the consequences of excessive gambling can be widespread, with shame or stigma stemming from individual behaviour reflected on the entire family or family network.26, 29 Familial and social ties are at the centre of these societies and unacceptable behaviour affects not only the individual but the entire family’s prospects in business, marriage and social standing.29

Help-seeking in CALD communities

The generalised stigma that can follow gambling can lead gamblers to attempt to solve their problem themselves or within the family unit rather than to seek help from their community or professional services.12, 15, 30, 38 This can place a considerable burden upon the family as they try to manage the financial and emotional fall out from gambling problems.

Cultural mores also influence help seeking decision-making. The concept of counselling and therapy as available within Australia is a distinctly Western concept, and one that is often foreign to individuals from some CALD groups. The initial preference for some groups is to deal with the problem within the family.

Professional help may only be sought if (a) people are aware of, and understand, the services on offer, and (b) problems are beyond the scope of the family or community to fix.12, 15, 38 This is evidenced by the fact that it is often the family members of those who are having problems who initiate contact with formal help services.12, 29

Where professional support is sought, CALD clients may have particular cultural needs. Some individuals and groups feel that being able to communicate in their own language with someone who understands their cultural background is desirable. Other individuals and groups prefer to go outside the community, often to ensure that others in their community do not find out about their problems, thus avoiding bringing shame on their family.12, 15, 25, 38

Further, people from collectivistic cultures have highlighted the need for family involvement in the counselling process.12 While some mainstream services acknowledge this and invite the family to attend as a group, this approach is not standard practice in Western-based services, which prioritise client privacy. This lack of understanding may therefore function as a further barrier for individuals from CALD communities to accessing formal help.12, 30


  • Research into varying CALD communities is still very limited and much of the existing research is now out of date
  • Targeted research for groups identified as at risk due to high participation or harms related to gambling should be prioritised.
  • Both mainstream and culturally specific gambling help services are needed to support CALD gamblers and their families. Mainstream services should ensure that they are culturally responsive to successfully engage with individuals from CALD communities.
  • Providing culturally appropriate information about gambling to individuals arriving in Australia is critical to ensure that they understand the risks of gambling, including how this may vary for different forms of gambling.

Key readings

The Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW. (1999). Gambling among members of ethnic communities in Sydney. Sydney: The Casino Community Benefit Fund.

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. Melbourne: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Raylu, N., & Oei, T. P. (2004). Role of culture in gambling and problem gambling. Clinical Psychology Review, 23(8), 1087–1114. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2003.09.005

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. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia.

Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority. (2000). The impact of gaming on specific cultural groups. Melbourne: Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority.


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At the time of writing Marissa Dickins was a Senior Research Officer with the Australian Gambling Research Centre. Anna Thomas was Manager of the Australian Gambling Research Centre at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.


Suggested citation: Dickins, M., & Thomas, A. (2016). Gambling in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities in Australia (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 7). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre, Australian Institute of Family Studies.