Gambling wreaks financial and social havoc  on Tongan community

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Gambling is a major problems for Tongans in New Zealand.

Research carried out in recent years shows that Tongans have been particularly vulnerable because of poverty, unemployment and lack of education.

Early research showed people of Pacific origin were six times as likely to experience problem gambling or pathological gambling than palagi and twice as likely for Māori.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that many Tongans were deeply involved in gambling whether with casinos, local pokie machines, TABs, or lottery products.

Economic effects such as debt and bankruptcy were common among problem gamblers. In addition to the economic costs, problem gambling seriously affected the families of problem gamblers through financial stress, repossession of personal property such as electrical goods, cars, furniture or houses to pay debts, or when savings were  lost.

Problem gambling has also been associated with depression, denial, lying, crime, fraud, theft, violence, and partner and child abuse and neglect.

Later research has suggested that young Tongans gamble for fun, but adults gamble to make money and have a high expectation of winning. Tongan women were developing gambling problems faster than men. It was also suggested that low socio-economic areas were targeted by TABs and pokie outlets.

Easy access to pokies in pubs and gambling venues contributed to problem gambling. Constant exposure to advertising about Lotto, the casino and the TAB on TV, radio, in newspapers and on the Internet normalised gambling and emphasised luck in winning.

According to a study of mental health issues among Pasific people, gambling has been normalised because church and community leaders are seen to gamble, thus making it acceptable. Other problems occured when children or young adults were left on their own while their parents gamble, or when mothers, who are expected to be the backbone of the Tongan household, start gambling.

The same report said many Tongans gambled because of a desire to fulfil social duties to community, church and relatives, loneliness and a sense of freedom, especially for women. Many actually believed they had a fair chance of winning,

Do you need help?

The Salvation Army defines problem gambling as:

  • Losing more money than you can afford
  • Lying about where the money is going
  • Borrowing money to gamble or pay debts
  • Using money meant for household bills and food to gamble
  • Craving a ‘high’ from your gambling
  • Being evasive about money or gambling

Salvation army Freephone: 0800 53 00 00

Problem Gambling Foundation Helpline: 0800 664 262

The main points

  • Gambling is a major problems for Tongans in New Zealand.
  • Tongans are particularly vulnerable because of poverty, unemployment and lack of education.
  • People of Pacific origin are six times as likely to experience problem gambling or pathological gambling than palagi and twice as likely for Māori.
  • Problem gambling seriously affects the families of problem gamblers through financial stress, repossession of personal property or when savings are

For more information

‘Gambling issues for Tongan people in Auckland, Aotearoa-New Zealand,’ by Sione Tu’itahi,

Yvette Guttenbeil-Po’uhila, Jennifer Hand and Tin Htay, in Journal of Gambling Issues, 12. 

Pasifika and Gambling

Gambling issues in the Auckland Tongan community. Palopalema ‘o e Va’inga Pa’anga ‘i he Kainga Tonga ‘i ‘Aoklani. by Yvette Guttenbeil-Pu’uhilae; Jennifer Hand; Tin Htay, Tin and sione Tu’itahi. Auckland Auckland Regional Public Health Service. Auckland District Health Board, 2004.

Penina Uliuli: Contemporary Challenges in Mental Health for Pacific Peoples. By Philip Culbertson, Margaret Nelson Agee. University of Hawai’i Press, 2007.

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