The State of Minnesota’s Problem Gambling, Culturally Specific Awareness Initiative

Minnehaha Falls Minneapolis MN
Photo by Tony I of Unsplash

Problem gambling negatively affects individuals, families, and communities in Minnesota. The behavior patterns associated with problem gambling compromise activities of daily living such as relationships, education and vocational opportunities, personal and financial well-being, substance use, emotional stability, physical health, and housing.

Problem gambling also impacts families and other loved ones. It contributes to chaos and dysfunction within the family, can contribute to separation and divorce, and is associated with child and spousal neglect and abuse. Family members may have depressive or anxiety disorders and/or abuse substances. People often hide gambling problems from their families, thus called the “hidden addiction.” Disclosing the gambling secret can be devastating to relationships, leading to resentment and loss of trust. The financial difficulties created by problem gambling can be disastrous to all: The individual, their spouses, and children.

So what is the state of Minnesota doing to respond to the needs of those experiencing problem gambling?

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 245.98, the Department of Human Services, Behavioral Health Division (DHS/BHD) is charged with administering a program which funds awareness and education campaigns, a statewide helpline, residential and non-residential treatment for problem gambling, professional training opportunities and research designed to address the needs of Minnesota communities experiencing problem gambling.

One of the initiatives we would like to highlight during this year’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month is a new statewide awareness initiative: The Problem Gambling Culturally Specific Awareness Initiative.

What is the Culturally Specific Awareness Campaign Initiative and what makes it unique?

People often hide gambling problems from their families, thus called the “hidden addiction.”Firstly, DHS/BHD has historically funded a Statewide Awareness Campaign in partnership with Russell Herder, Inc., a marketing firm based in Minneapolis. This partnership has produced some great marketing strategies using multiple platforms for delivering gambling awareness and prevention messages.

The Problem Gambling Culturally Specific Awareness Initiative is unique in the sense that it’s a new approach to getting the word out about the harmful effects of problem gambling in ways that are most understandable to, and likely to be well received by, the different communities that live in Minnesota. Many of our culturally specific communities, which include our racial and ethnic communities, have been marginalized far too long, and also forgotten, when it comes to health and equity, despite our efforts to reach all Minnesota communities. As a result, state data related to behavioral health continue to show disparities among these populations and don’t seem to be getting any better today as this relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. While data is limited on the prevalence of problem gambling among culturally specific communities, Minnesota did complete a health and wellness survey regarding problem gambling in 2020.

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In 2018, DHS/BHD issued a request for proposals to fund diverse community campaigns.

Building local capacity

We have known that Minnesota is not made up of a homogeneous population, but a heterogeneous population that continues to change every year. There are many diverse communities in Minnesota and a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching all communities is not an effective strategy. Therefore, we need to know who the focused populations are, including their cultures, languages, norms, and world views. And who better to inform and guide these communities than themselves? Part of the goal in establishing the Problem Gambling Culturally Specific Initiative is to build capacity at the local level, within these focused communities. We know from other behavioral health initiatives, that positive outcomes are more likely, when we educate the communities, we engage the communities, and we empower communities to drive towards their own destiny. We also know that the more buy-in that is established and the more relationships and collaborations which are established, the more likely partnerships will be sustained over time, long after a grant expires. In short, capacity is about sharing and growing knowledge and hope for health and wellness in all communities.

Our partners in this initiative include:

For this article, we asked our partners: What excites you the most regarding this opportunity?

Asian Media Access: “What most excites me about this opportunity is being able to support my communities with cultural and linguistic appropriate educational materials about problem gambling, as well as highlighting our youth voices throughout the educational campaign.” Ange Hwang, Executive Director from Asian Media Access.

Progressive Individual Resources: “We are excited about the opportunity to engage with different groups from different parts of Africa because we are able to gain insight into the gambling culture of each community. This initiative will also provide us the opportunity to have concrete statistics about the prevalence of gambling addiction within the African community in Minnesota. Even though we are from different countries, we share a sense of community. There is an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Together we can provide resources to those who need it most and serve this community as effectively as possible.” Dr. Richard Oni and Psychotherapist Bili Banjoko, Progressive Individual Resources Inc (PIRI)

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Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota: “Reshaping ways to strengthen our community by developing creative solutions that are meaningful, impactful, and culturally appropriate.” Sunny Chanthanouvong, ສີນ ຈັນທະນຸວົງສ໌, Executive Director

Minneapolis Neighborhood Youth Academy: “We are excited to continue the development of young men and women of color by providing early community-based interventions to have the greatest impact on a child’s ability to move beyond the potential barriers in their communities.” Lucas Patterson, Director of Neighborhood Youth Academy

Russell Herder: “Besides reaching thousands of Minnesota residents each month with critical information about problem gambling and access to treatment, we’ve had the profound opportunity to work within several of our state’s cultural communities to learn, share and impact lives. Through authentic co-creation with our community partners, together, we’re making a difference.” Carol Russell, CEO of Russell Herder

Many of our culturally specific communities, which include our racial and ethnic communities, have been marginalized far too long, and also forgotten, when it comes to health and equity, despite our efforts to reach all Minnesota communities. It is the policy of the state of Minnesota to ensure fairness, precision, equity, and consistency in competitive grant awards. This includes implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion in grant-making, creating a field of fairness in the dissemination of public funds in the best interest of all communities. More importantly, it is the vision of the Minnesota Department of Human Services for health equity in Minnesota, where all communities are afforded the opportunity to access culturally responsive services, where all communities are thriving, and all people have what they need to live a healthy life.

Achieving health equity means creating the conditions in which all people can attain their highest possible level of health. To achieve these goals, we believe we need to tap into the richness that these communities bring to reaching individuals and families in their respective communities. Language, culture, norms, beliefs, world views and lived experiences matter when designing problem gambling prevention messages and intervention and treatment services. The Problem Gambling Culturally Specific Awareness Initiative has allowed DHS/BHD the opportunity to partner with four community, culturally-based organizations to help us reach their respective communities. In launching this initiative, DHS/BHD meets our commitment to implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion in grant-making and in the dissemination of public funds and meets our collective vision for health equity in Minnesota.


Nick Vega Puente is the manager of the Promotion, Prevention and Infrastructure Development Unit, Behavioral Health Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Last Updated on March 9, 2021

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