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Seniors curb gambling addiction with Chinese drama

A group of seniors perform drama in Richmond aimed at curbing addiction to gambling

Every Friday afternoon, retired Richmond resident Theresa Chan goes to the City Centre Community Centre to practise drama.

For the past five years, this has been her weekly routine.

However, Chan is not a professional actor, and neither are her 17 colleagues, who’re also retired.

They’re volunteers, here to perform in plays that address one theme and one theme only: Gambling.

“We came up with the idea five years ago to deliver meaningful messages to the public, especially seniors, through drama,” said Phyllis Chan, community engagement provider and Chinese specialist at the B.C. Responsible & Problem Gambling Program (BCRPGP).

“We found that seniors often have a shorter attention span, so traditional methods like lectures are not very effective on them,” she said.

The program then developed a few story lines, recruited a group of senior volunteer “actors,” including a former movie actor from Hong Kong, and started “touring” in Richmond and other areas in B.C.

“It’s really popular, and the audiences love it,” Chan said. “We now perform at least once a month.

“The volunteers enjoy it, too. Most of them had no experience on the stage but are now pros and very confident in performing.”

Two scripts are being performed by the group right now; one is called “Problem Gambler in Wonderland” and another one is “Believe it or not.”

The former is about a man who is addicted to gambling but unaware of it himself. After being asked by his friends about all the signs of problem gambling, he realizes that he is at risk.

In the second story, a person believes different systems can help him win at gambling, until he realizes gambling is all about chance and not a way to make money.

“Through the play, we help our audiences understand the signs of problem gambling and where to seek help,” said Chan.

She said there used to be plays in English, Mandarin and Cantonese in Richmond, but because of a staff change and a lack of volunteer engagement, only the Cantonese group is now active.

“We have the scripts in other languages available and we’d love to bring them back to the community again,” she said.

Seniors are vunerable

All the actors in the drama team are retired volunteers. Photo by Daisy Xiong/Richmond News

UBC psychology professor Luke Clark, who specializes in problem gambling, says the senior’s gambling drama is an unusual approach.

“There are a lot of concerns about gambling among seniors,” Clark said.

“Things that happen to older adults might make them a vulnerable group, like retirement from work and bereavement. Also, they have access to pensions and savings, and gambling might be an attractive source of recreation for them.”

He adds that many casino venues provide services such as bus tours, so some seniors may choose to go to a casino as a way of socializing.

However, Clark noted that compared to people more than 60, those in their 20s and 30s are at a much higher risk of addiction due to weaker self-control.

“(And) statistics show that problem gambling is greater in men than women, is increased in young adults and people with lower household income,” he adds.

The team has formed friendship over the last five year's devotion to acting on gambling problems. Photo by Daisy Xiong/Richmond News

Andre Serzisko, prevention coordinator at the BCRPGP, said a few factors can help people figure out if they have a problem.

“If the gambling activities intrude on your time with children, at school or at work, or if you spend money on gambling that otherwise you would spend on your rent, groceries or bills, you know that you have crossed a line,” said Serzisko.

Detecting problem gamblers and reaching out to them are always a challenge, according to Serzisko.

Each casino in B.C., including River Rock in Richmond, has game sense advisors (GSA) to observe and interact with patrons that might need support in the moment.

However, Clark noted that there is a growing trend in online gambling, especially among millennial gamblers, which make them less “visible.”

If you have any problems or questions about gambling, call the BCRPGP help line 1-888-795-6111.