In Summary

  • Study of Vietnamese women imprisoned for drug crimes 
  • First evidence of the link between gambling and crime for Vietnamese-Australian women
  • More than half of the participants driven into the drug trade to resolve debts 

‌A study of 35 Vietnamese women imprisoned for drug crimes has shown a strong association between problem gambling in Melbourne’s casino and illicit drug markets.

The Swinburne University of Technology study, led by Professor Michael Gilding, Executive Dean, Faculty of Business and Law, and Dr Roslyn Le, is based on in-depth interviews conducted by Dr Le in the two women’s prisons in Victoria during 2010 and 2011.

It provides the first evidence of the link between gambling and crime for Vietnamese-Australian women.

“It was only through speaking to these women that we were able to obtain a deeper understanding of how gambling at Melbourne’s Crown Casino facilitated the women’s involvement in Melbourne’s illicit drug trade,” Dr Le said.

“It is clear that there is a deeper social problem at play here. It is critical that policy officials, community-based organisations and service providers urgently respond to this issue by developing more finely-tuned interventions directed towards the relationship between gambling and drug trafficking.”

Of the 35 study participants, more than half were driven into the drug trade to resolve debts incurred through casino gambling. When asked how they ended up in prison, they unequivocally explained ‘it’s because I got involved in gambling at the casino.’

Most participants came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and entered into drug trafficking because it offered the only apparent means to repay their gambling debts.

“These women described the casino as a place to socialise and meet other Vietnamese people - a socially acceptable place for a woman on her own,” Dr Le said.

"It provided an opportunity to escape personal problems at home, such as marital conflict, loneliness and bereavement.”

Most were involved in the heroin trade and all were in prison as a result of their first arrest.

“All of these women were ashamed and embarrassed about their involvement in the drug trade, but it was clear that desperate circumstances called for desperate measures in their minds,” Dr Le said.

Informal money lenders, commonly known in the media as ‘loan sharks’ provided a structural link between gambling and drug trafficking.

The women consistently reported an interest rate of ten per cent per week from these lenders. The exorbitant rates meant that there came a point where they could no longer hope to recover their debts through gambling.

They described how lenders ‘forced’ their involvement in the drug trade through threats and intimidation. One woman described how her lenders ‘knew my background like where my parents were living and which school my son attended.’ Another recalled her fear when lenders ‘came to my house banging on the doors and swearing at me, saying all sorts of things’.

Dr Le said that her Vietnamese ethnicity promoted access and rapport with the participants who were willing to share their stories about the circumstances and motivations that led to their involvement in the drug trade. 

View the full journal article Gambling and drugs: The role of gambling among Vietnamese women incarcerated for drug crimes in Australia in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology.