‘More and more FilAms seeking help for compulsive gambling,’ says sociologist Dr. Fred Andes

‘Gambling is as American as apple pie.’ Photo by Ness Bantog

‘Gambling is as American as apple pie.’ Photo by Ness Bantog

By Cristina DC Pastor

One man’s addiction is another’s cultural past-time. We’re talking about gambling and Filipino Americans.

Like many Asian American communities, such as the Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese, Filipinos are among the most serious gamblers. They rationalize that gambling is part of their culture.

“A sport for adults,” framed Dr. Fred Andes, dean of Sociology and Anthropology Department at the New Jersey City University (NJCU) and a substance abuse counselor. “As a matter of fact my grandmother was the one who taught me how to play blackjack when I was only 9 or 10.”

In the U.S., high-stakes betting on Internet gambling, casinos, or the race tracks can be lethal on personal finances, family relationships or physical health. In some cases, stressed Andes, who is also a long-time treasurer of the Council of Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ), gambling becomes even more destructive than addiction to heroin or cocaine. Gambling, according to him, has the highest rate of suicide, “higher than drug addiction.”

He explained, “As an addiction, it has no saturation point. If I give $10K to an alcoholic, he stops after the money is gone. But to a gambler, he will continue to spend beyond that amount.”

Andes has appeared in public hearings in Trenton educating lawmakers on the social impact of gambling. He pointed out that the toll-free 1-800-GAMBLERS appears in all lottery tickets. That number goes to the nonprofit CCGNJ, and calls are handled by individuals who are recovering gamblers.

“We’re getting more and more Asians, and a lot more Filipinos are calling the number for help,” he disclosed.

Andes declared, “We’re not against gambling.” As a matter of fact, he said, New Jersey generates about $1 billion in net income from race tracks and casinos, which are a form of legalized gambling.

“It’s a lot of money for one state,” he said. “Look at all the billboards. That’s how they promote it.”

The council was created to provide “information, education and referral services for people affected by a gambling problem.” The helpline assists compulsive gamblers or those recovering from it, he added.

One cannot stop gambling, said Andes. “It’s as American as apple pie.”

Like some Asian communities, FilAms are not into counseling. They like to insulate their problems and keep them within the family to avoid shame or embarrassment. To get the confidence of a Filipino who needs help, Andes said he has to be “like a member of the family.”

“What I do is befriend the family until they are confident enough to call me uncle or ‘tito.’ Then they start opening up. That’s our culture,” he said.

Many, he noted, remain in a state of denial.

Andes came to the U.S. in 1968 and settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University the following year. At the time, he was the only Filipino student. He earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work.

He came to Jersey City in 1993 to work as a full-time professor at the NJCU. He is currently the chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. An authority on substance abuse, he has done research on HIV transmission and drug use as well as trained clinicians who are doing counseling for parolees coming out of prison for mental health and substance abuse evaluation.

“I remember, my own mother in her 60s or 70s, would go to those gambling dens in the Philippines; they call it the ‘pangginge,’” said Andes sounding flippant that in his own kin in New Jersey, gambling is very much woven into the lifestyle. It could be a weekend trip to Atlantic City or several hours of mahjong. Or just the scratch lotto tickets.

“These are devout Catholics,” he said. “They look at gambling and see nothing wrong with it.”

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