Dr. Desmond Lam is a whale. Not because of his girth, but because of his worth to casinos. Casinos love Professor Lam because he’s a high roller, and an industry expert. He teaches, writes about gaming, and understands why nearly 25 million Chinese gamblers cram into little Macau each year (which is 1/6 the size of Washington, DC).
Here are three of his reasons why so many Chinese bet the farm in Macau:
1) The Chinese love to gamble. It does not matter if you’re playing Baccarat (Baak ga lok in Cantonese), Black Jack, Sic Bo, or Mahjongg with your grandmother – it’s all good. (Over 60 Chinese movies feature gambling, including “The God of Gamblers” which starred Chow Yun Fat, from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).
2) Casinos are prohibited on mainland China. But they are permitted in the former Portuguese colony of Macau (now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China). Today, Macau is the largest gaming city in the world.
3) Macau’s 33 casinos cater to their Chinese guests’ culture and beliefs. Buildings are constructed along Feng Shui guidelines – from the architecture and interior design, down to the gaming tables. For example, since the number 4 sounds like the Cantonese word for “death,” there are no fourth floors, or 40th through 49th floors in new construction, nor is the number “4” on Baccarat tables. However, you will see an abundance of fountains, music, lights, and shows like the golden “Tree of Prosperity” in the Wynn Macau. These design elements help the flow of positive “Chi” (energy) throughout their buildings, and draw players to their “lucky” establishments.
Many Chinese try to attract good luck at the tables through certain behaviors. Players believe this helps them connect to elemental forces, and influences their destinies. Here are five Do’s and Don’ts at the gaming tables:
DO: • Wear red underclothes. • Pick numbers that are significant – like your parents’ birthdays, your wedding anniversary, your address, etc. • Leave the lights on at your house before you go gambling. • Watch who is winning, and place the same bet as that player. • Feed the baby ghost behind you some sugar. (An old belief, but cute.)
DON’T: • Mention books or have a book anywhere near you. (“Book” sounds similar to “lose” in Cantonese.) • Touch a gambler’s shoulder while he or she is at the table. You’ll drain away the good luck! • Leave the table during a winning streak to go to the restroom – you will disrupt everyone’s good “chi” at the table. • Go into the casino via the main entrance. Particularly if it’s through a lion’s mouth (like the MGM Grand’s in Las Vegas used to be.) • Bet against an expectant mother. A pregnant woman has an “extra set of eyes” to observe the game – and carries extra good luck around with her.
Besides non-verbal gambling protocol, you may hear certain words shouted out at the tables to repel bad cards, and invoke good ones. Two common Cantonese words that stop bad hands are:
“Deng!” (Block!) – Shouted to block bad cards from appearing.
“Cheui” (Blow!) – Used to blow the bad cards away.
With all that said, one might think that the Chinese are the biggest gamblers in the world. But they are not. According to H2 Gambling Capita (h2gc.com), a consultancy that analyzes gaming in over 200 countries, the top gambling nation in 2010 was Australia. Singapore, which is predominantly Chinese, was No. 2, and close behind was Ireland.
Surprising? There is a good bit of research about types of gamblers, psychology, and culture. It may be significant that Australia and Ireland both score relatively high for individualism, masculinity, and short-term orientations. These independent individualists tend to prioritize free choice, and may see risk as an energizing opportunity.
Certain nationalities may also gamble more than others based upon their legal systems. Since Australians jokingly refer to sports as their national religion, the fact that they legalized online sports betting clearly encourages serious wagers. And in Ireland, the electric and telephone utilities encourage the Irish to pay their bills by automatically entering on-time payments into a raffle.
Of course, we all have our superstitions, our black cats, lucky 7s, and winning sports rituals. So when Chinese executive in Guangzhou purchased a license plate with the number AW6666 for $34,000, it made sense to other Chinese. In Chinese, the number sequence sounded like “smooth all the way.”
Smoothing the way with auspicious numbers, prosperous company symbols, and polite behaviors seems like a safe bet wherever you go. Best of Luck!