Eking out a living riding a bus: Asian American Seniors in New York

8a-2016-12-120116-wabc-casino-buses-seniors-02-imgIn the Asian ethnoburb where I live, one sees three kinds of buses.  One kind is the Santa Clara Valley Transit public transportation bus, and another is the kind is the tech bus, as white Google buses pick people up and drop off every week day near my house.  A third kind is the bus that stops at the local Asian shopping center that picks up people to trips, often to casinos.  My dad takes buses like this to gamble at distant casinos like Cache Creek – about two hours away from my house.  I recently saw this article and was stunned to learn that some Asian Americans from New York, mostly seniors, take a similar two hour casino bus ride for a surprising reason: to make ends meet.

How does this work?  Casino bus tours come with a $45 voucher when a rider receives when he or she gets to the casino.  The rider sells his voucher for $38, and after the $20 bus fee, comes out $18 ahead.  Not a huge amount of money for four hours of riding a bus and waiting around for the trip back, but doing this enough days a week might mean the difference between having a roof overhead or not.  According to New York City statistics (latest date is 2014), Asian Americans have the highest poverty rates in the city of any ethnic group, and differences are worse for seniors (look up over 65).   There are is a ready market for these discount vouchers – a gambler gets money at a sufficient discount rate that can let him overcome the house advantage at certain games – if that person is disciplined and methodical enough.

While the TV news article talks about being an exclusive, a bit of digging shows that this story has been reported on for a while, and an elaborate subculture around the casino buses has evolved.  An anthropologist studied the Korean Americans making the trip and produced this visual essay called “The Endless Bus Trip”.   Apparently there is a nickname for these bus riders in Korean – bus-kkun.   All of those Asian bus riders has had an effect on Bethlehem Pennsylvania, too.

This story saddened me for a number of reasons.  My dad rides the casino bus to have fun, but others ride it to make a living.  The model minority stereotype of Asian Americans helps blind us to these people – the story in the “exclusive” has been reported a number of times before.  The stereotype about Asian American “filial piety” is especially galling – impoverished Asian American seniors have a higher poverty rate in New York than any other group.   New York State Assembly member Ron Kim wants more attention this particular problem.   That remains to be seen.

(h/t:  Gil)

Photo credit: WABC

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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