Why Do Many Chinatown Residents Oppose A Casino In Their Backyard? It Goes Way Back

Written By Matt Boecker on May 3, 2022 - Last Updated on May 4, 2022
rivers chinatown

While some Illinoisans are thrilled about a Chicago casino, others are fearful of the impact it could have on their community.

The main concern is mounting amongst leaders in Chinatown, especially with the possibility that a new casino could open in their backyard.

Currently, there are three casinos under consideration by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her administration: Hard Rock One Central near Soldier Field, Bally’s Chicago near River North, and Rivers 78 near Chinatown.

While this isn’t the first bit of backlash the city has received at the prospect of a new casino opening, members of the community in Chinatown have recently vocalized the harm it could do to their neighborhood. Especially if Rivers 78 is the chosen applicant to proceed with the next steps in opening a casino.

Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) executive director Grace Chan McKibben believes that members of Chinatown may be preyed upon by casinos because of the cultural makeup of the community’s citizens.

She told PlayIllinois via email:

“Casinos are harmful to all marginalized communities, including seniors, youth, low income folks, immigrants and people of color. People who can least afford to lose money tend to be the most vulnerable, because they may think that gambling is a quick way to win money, when casinos and gaming machines are designed to make you lose track of time and lose track of exactly how much money you spent.”

History behind gambling and the Chinese community

McKibben cited the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act when immigrants working as laborers weren’t allowed to bring their families when coming to the United States.

Because of this, many Chinese immigrants resorted to gambling to fill their time outside of work. This would have a lasting impact on Chinatown and Chinese Americans for years to come.

McKibben added that funding for gambling addiction aid has only started coming in from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) in the past two years. She said the current funding goes to counseling for those with gambling addictions. Still, more funds are needed to research and find the root of the issue and implement proven solutions to help those with gambling addictions.

McKibben believes Chicago and Lightfoot should protect the following groups of vulnerable people from gambling:

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities
  • Immigration populations
  • Seniors
  • Youth

She said:

“I think that more resources dedicated to educating the public about potential harms of gambling addiction and funding for counseling programs for all vulnerable communities would go a long way, as will laws prohibiting or limiting aggressive advertising and marketing by casinos, betting sites, video gaming sites, etc.”

The IDHS has shown some initiative toward tackling the issue of problem gambling across the Land of Lincoln. In 2020, the agency began a year-long statewide gambling addiction study.

The study results should be released soon. The IDHS is hopeful the results can help identify issues and help prevent problem gambling.

Lightfoot will announce the winning Chicago casino bidder this summer.

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Matt Boecker

Matt Boecker is a 2020 graduate of Northern Illinois University hailing from Chicago. Boecker specializes in coverage of sports betting and legalization. Former teammates and coworkers describe him as a nice guy who tries hard and loves the game.

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