Casino ads aimed at Chinese gamblers rile family group

The Rideau Carleton Raceway has launched an advertising campaign that appears to be aimed directly at Ottawa's Chinese community, despite warnings from Ottawa Public Health that it's among the ethnic groups at greater risk of harm from problem gambling.

Ottawa Public Health has warned Chinese community among those at higher risk of gambling addiction

The future home of the Hard Rock Casino is promoting a new "Asian inspired lounge" with ads and a website targeted to Chinese speakers. (Rideau Carleton Raceway)

The Rideau Carleton Raceway has launched an advertising campaign that appears to be aimed directly at Ottawa's Chinese community, despite a warning from Ottawa Public Health that it's among the ethnic groups at greater risk of harm from problem gambling.

The raceway, soon to be part of a major expansion with partner Hard Rock Casino, has launched a campaign to promote its new "Asian inspired gaming area."

The graphically captivating ads, written entirely in Chinese, promote traditional Chinese games such as pai gow.

The ads appear online and on the street, including a large billboard outside the T&T Supermarket on Hunt Club Road and on bus shelters in Chinatown.

The raceway has launched a Chinese website to advertise the casino's offerings, and even promises a noodle bar as part of its future plans for the lounge.
A rendering of part of the Rideay Carleton Raceway/Hard Rock Casino's "Asian inspired lounge." (Hard Rock Casino)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) released a report in the wake of the casino expansion announcement warning some ethnocultural groups, including people who identify as Chinese, are at a greater risk of developing gambling habits.

The casino promised to work with OPH to address those concerns, but has not come up with a concrete strategy.

'Too many families broken'

But one Chinese group in Ontario warns the campaign could contribute to higher rates of gambling addiction within that community.

"Too many families are broken, too many individuals are in trouble with the law, too many individuals have their credit screwed," said Anna Wong, executive director of Chinese Family Services of Ontario (CFSO), a non-profit counselling service.
Anna Wong is executive director of Chinese Family Services of Ontario, a non-profit organisation that provides counselling services. (Supplied)

The Rideau Carleton Raceway is far from unique in tailoring its marketing to certain groups; casinos around the world court Asian players, Wong said.

"Gambling is one of the social activities that are pretty primary to the culture, or ingrained in the social culture," she said.

People of Asian descent disproportionately experience harm from problem gambling, according to a brief compiled by Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, an independent knowledge exchange funded by the provincial government.

A 2002 study showed a problem gambling rate of 2.9 per cent among a sample of Chinese respondents, compared to 1.2 per cent in the general population.

Getting help not always easy

Wong believes the rate is even higher than reported. Most of the roughly 500 people who seek treatment from her organization every year do so involuntarily, either by order of the courts or under pressure from their families, she said.

Problem gamblers face greater stigma within their own community, she said. When they try to seek treatment outside their community, language barriers can hinder their attempts.

"It prevents them from reaching out," Wong said.

Rather than blame the casino, Wong points the finger at support services that have failed to keep up either with the proliferation of gaming in Ontario, or with the province's rising Chinese population.

Casino meets OLG standards

Despite the clear theme of the campaign, the casino denies it's specifically targeting Chinese people.

"We market to all communities," said Andrew Wright, a director of the Rideau Carleton/Hard Rock joint venture.  

"If there's Mandarin-speaking people who are interested in gaming then we want to expose our entertainment to them."

Wright said the Rideau Carleton Raceway goes above and beyond OLG's requirements when it comes to guarding against gambling addiction. 

OPH will reach out to "high-risk groups" to spread the word about problem gambling, said spokesperson Donna Casey in a statement.

The health agency will also keep in touch with various cultural groups to try to get a clearer picture of the impact of gambling addiction in Ottawa, Casey said.