Gambling offers relief, entertainment for undocumented immigrants

Undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States for more than eight years often created financial stability, which increased the likelihood for them to gamble, new research finds.

The study found that immigrants who entered and lived in the United States after 1996 were less likely to gamble compared to those who had lived in this country longer. Gambling was more likely to occur among undocumented immigrants who reported annual incomes of more than $10,000.

"Financial stability, which may increase with the number of years lived in the U.S., may in turn facilitate gambling behaviors," says Sandra Momper, lead author and an assistant professor in the School of Social Work (SSW).

The study examined the prevalence and types of gambling among undocumented Mexican immigrants in New York City. This minority population is vulnerable and may be at risk of experiencing gambling problems given their immigration status and low socioeconomic status, Momper says.

The 431 respondents ranged in age from 18-80. More than half (53.8 percent) reported gambling in their lifetime and most of them (43.9 percent) played scratch and win tickets or the lottery. About 35 percent gambled up to $100 in cash in one day, and nearly 45 percent spent up to $10 to play scratch and win tickets or the lottery.

Nearly eight out of 10 males in the study gambled. "This may reflect men following stereotypical gender roles whereby men's involvement in risk-taking behavior, such as gambling, is not only tolerated but may also be encouraged as part of what it means to be a 'man,'" Momper says.

The odds of gambling in their lifetime were high among those who reported that they send money to family or friends in their home country. Immigrants often send a significant portion of their earnings to relatives.

Immigrants who reported gambling in their lifetime also indicated high levels of linguistic and social integration to the American culture.

Researchers also found that immigrants who reported worse mental health (stress, depression and emotional problems) were more likely to report gambling although those with the worst mental health reported less gambling.

"It is possible," Momper says, "that people suffering from depression turn to gambling to escape from or alleviate the symptoms of the disorder."

Momper co-authored the study with Vijay Nandi and Danielle Ompad of the New York Academy of Medicine; Jorge Delva, professor, SSW; and Sandro Galea, professor, School of Public Health.

The findings appear in the March issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies.