In Bankrupt Detroit, Gambling Addiction Is on the Rise

Samer Hijazi


From The Arab American News and reprinted by our content partner New America Media:


DETROIT — For a bankrupt Detroit, the gaming industry has been a steady source of income and tax revenue over the last decade, despite an unstable auto industry.


But while the establishment of MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino (MCC) and Greektown Casino have attracted hundreds of thousands of metropolitan residents into the city, it's no secret that the casinos have become a large stomping ground for the local Arab and Chaldean communities in recent years.


On any given night, hundreds of local Arab and Chaldean residents can be seen strolling through the local casinos, playing slot machines, or blackjack and participating in poker tournaments.


The habit isn't just concentrated on one particular age group or gender, either. Many young adults, middle-aged and senior citizens from the Arab and Chaldean communities have become frequent gamblers at the local casinos.


"The other day I saw one of my mom's best friends there," said Ali, a 22-year-old Dearborn Heights man. "I was actually very embarrassed, but I think there's a mutual understanding between all of us that you don't go back and tell."


Ali and his friends visit the casinos up to three times a week. Their trips may become more frequent now that it's the summer season and classes are over. Their favorite spot is MGM, but they like to switch it up every once in a while and go to MCC.


Ali said when they gamble, they gamble big. On average, he and his friends can spend anywhere from $400 to $800 a night trying to catch their luck. While there is a very likely chance they are going to lose the money, he said they keep doing it because it's entertaining.


"All it really is, is a fun night out with the boys," he added. "And the more friends that join us, the bigger event it becomes. Winning is just a bonus."


Ali said the most he's ever won in a night was $1,200, but that doesn't even come close to the thousands he and his friends have accumulated in losses over the last several months from frequenting the casinos. In fact, winning does nothing more than give them an incentive to return.


"If we win anything, we are going right back there the next day to blow it," he added.


Ali and his friends seem to be doing what many young groups of Arabs and Chaldeans have now grown accustomed to — show up at the casino in packs of six or eight people and splurge on gambling and drinks until the wee hours of the morning.


There are also many horror stories of impulsive gambles in the community — those who go to the casino on a whim because they think they can win enough money to buy a fancy car, or those who are looking to impress a significant other by winning enough money to buy a gift. But instead, they end up leaving the casino with empty pockets.


One local middle-aged Irish woman from Dearborn said she's been a staple at the casinos for years and has noticed a larger presence from the Arab community recently. She said she often sees middle-aged men and, on a few occasions, "women in headscarves."


"I see my next-door neighbor at the casino more than I see him at his house," said Patricia, who often visits both MGM and MCC on weeknights.


She said her neighbor, like many of the Arab and Chaldean men who frequent the casino, is married and has children. While the younger generation of Arabs and Chaldeans might not have a problem admitting they are casino regulars, middle-aged and older men are more discreet about the activity; perhaps because of the stigmas attached to gambling in their culture and religion.



Imam Muhammad Elahi, leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, said the holy Qur’an puts gambling in the same negative light it puts alcohol.


"It puts them together like they are two dangerous drugs," Elahi said. "What people lose is much more than what some people may gain. The Qur’an wants us to seriously reflect on the reality of this situation."


Elahi added that he's seen individuals suffer both mentally and physically as a result of a gambling addiction. The habit often breaks families apart by causing divorce, hardship on younger children and, in some extreme cases, even suicide. He believes the local community hasn't done enough to reach out to individuals who continue to indulge in these types of distractions.


"We know the casinos are about business and the people around it are paying the price for those companies to get rich and the cost is the destruction of family and individuals," Elahi said. "We need to use techniques to save the youth and give them awareness, spiritual and psychological support and make them responsible for their actions. We need to let them know that they can't continue this way."


Getting help


Dr. Eleanor Aharoni, a Chaldean American certified social worker who operates a private practice in West Bloomfield, said she's seen an endless amount of Arab and Chaldean individuals who have been impacted by gambling addiction.


According to Aharoni, gambling continues to be an increasing problem among both communities due to several factors that include close proximity to the local casinos, as well as influence from family and friends.


"When they have more money, they make it a point to show the community that they have more money," said Aharoni. "They want to make sure their families and their community know they are doing well, so there is this need to make sure they are making as much money as possible."


Aharorni said she has treated patients of both genders and all ages in the Arab and Chaldean community who suffer with a gambling addiction. She added that it’s become a growing pattern for men between 50 and 60, as well as younger ones in their 20s.


Some severe cases include people who have lost their businesses, cars and homes because their addiction spiraled out of control. Just recently, Aharoni consulted a young man who lost a $100,000 bet.


"What they don't realize is when they continue gambling they are going to lose more than they are going to win," she said. “A lot of people have lost businesses as a result of that and that's when I start seeing them. Never do they think that when they start gambling it will get to that point, but it's a progressive disease; and the more you play, the more you lose."


Aharoni said her main specialty lies in relapse prevention. Clients are encouraged to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings and oftentimes are asked to willingly sign their name on the state's Diversion Program, which bans them from all three of Detroit's casinos. If an individual is caught trespassing at one of the casinos, he could be penalized with fines or jail time.


In recent years, the Michigan Department of Community Health has also caught wind of an increase in gambling in the Detroit region. The state has implemented a free program operated by a Detroit-based organization, Health Management Systems of America, which specializes in wellness and behavioral healthcare services.


HMSA offers a hotline, therapy, crisis management and referrals from family members for free to individuals with a gambling addiction.


Program Manager Lori Mellow said that while the casinos have been the largest contributor to the gambling epidemic in the Detroit region, the habit is now starting to infiltrate underage children as well.


"People are gambling in different ways," Mellow said. “Because they can't enter the casinos until they are 21, they are doing sports betting, shooting dice, playing cards and playing games on social media."


The organization has also been finding avenues to cater to Detroit's multicultural communities. Individuals with gambling addictions are able to see specialists who speak Arabic or Spanish. They also distribute educational pamphlets in the foreign languages as well.


Mellow said the majority of the clients the organization has been seeing classify themselves as Caucasian, but she believes there is a great number of undetected minorities in the Detroit region who face a gambling addiction, but can't get themselves to admit they have a problem.


"Perhaps that's why the numbers aren't higher, because there is a lot of pride," she said. “It might be an addiction that's been kept in the family, or there might be cultural and traditional aspects tied down to it and we respect that. But we try to get the family involved in the treatment and we want them to feel comfortable."


From The Arab American News and reprinted by our content partner New America Media

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