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Asians continue to hit the casinos during tough economic times

By ARIEL TUNG (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-11-08 10:53
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NEW YORK - The recession may have put many out of work, but it has not dampened the spirit of gambling among Asians in the US, as shown by the number of Asian patrons at casinos.

Mohegan Sun, a tribal casino in Connecticut, is luring Asian patrons in the East Coast area by the busloads.

Ayesha Ma, Asian advertising manager at Mohegan Sun, said: "Asian business has been pretty consistent" during the recession.

A majority of the Asian patrons are Chinese, although the casino has "quite a big population of Korean and Vietnamese, and their patronage has constantly increased year after year".

Mohegan Sun - touted as the second largest casino in the US - runs 50 to 60 buses daily from Boston and New York City just for Asian players.

In addition, many drive in from Connecticut and nearby areas, Kelly Leung, vice-president of Asian marketing at Mohegan Sun, said.

Although the Asian population in Connecticut is below the national average of 4.4 percent, Asian patrons constitute 25 percent of their business, said Leung.

This is because most of the Asian patrons come from New York City and other East Coast areas.

More than 800,000 Asians live in New York City alone, recent US Census figures show.

Since opening in 1996, Mohegan Sun offered games such as baccarat to attract Asian patrons.

The demand for the game is so strong that in 2007, the casino launched Sunrise Square to cater to Asian patrons.

In the three casinos of Mohegan Sun - Casino of the Earth, Casino of the Sky and Casino of the Wind - there are a total of 298 table games.

In Sunrise Square alone, there are 50 table games.

Table games such as baccarat, blackjack and poker are a hit among the Asian patrons.

Almost half of the table games patrons are Asians, said Don Bowen, director of table games.

Bowen said 50 percent of its staff members are now Asians.

"Pretty much all Asian languages and dialects are covered. You won't have a language barrier here," he said.

Besides table games, Sunrise Square has a food court and bus lobby for its Asians.

Leung said Mohegan Sun is not just a casino, but an entertainment, eating and shopping center.

There are more than 70 restaurants, F&B outlets and luxury retail stores.

Early this year, Pennsylvania signed a bill to legalize table games at its casinos.

The law is said to generate millions of dollars to make up for tax collections to help pay the state's bills during the recession.

Some experts estimate that 25 percent to 30 percent of new table game players at Pennsylvania's casinos will be Asians, particularly at casinos with close access to heavy Asian population centers such as New York City and New Jersey.

Lia Nower, associate professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, said she does not think the bill is targeting Asians during the recession, but rather a "step up" process to make revenue during tight budget times.

"Historically, legislators ‘step' gambling into a state - starting with something the voters will approve, then continuing to expand incrementally," Nower said.

"The ultimate goal is always to expand gambling but the fear is that, if they start with too much too soon, the voters will vote it down."

Nevertheless, she agrees that adding table games may adversely impact more men and people of Asian ethnicity, as the two groups are typically over-represented in table games.

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Unfortunately, gambling can be an addiction, and not enough is been done in the East Coast to help people addicted.

Nower said that very limited state money (that is, well under $500,000) is available for treatment of gambling addicts in some states and not others.

There is also no federal money for research, education or prevention for gambling addiction.

"Overall, both federal and state governments make billions on gambling revenue - revenue that comes disproportionately from problem gamblers - however, there is no significant aid for problem gamblers."

In contrast, in the province of Ontario, Canada, the government allocates about $27 million annually to problem gambling, with $4 million for research, $4 million to $6 million for prevention and education, and about $17 million to treatment. "In my opinion, each state should automatically allocate a percentage of the gambling revenue directly to a fund for research, treatment and prevention," said Nower.