It has been said many times that the Chinese are a nation of gamblers. The stereotype is deeply embedded in not only western attitudes toward the Chinese, but in Chinese perception toward themselves. It is supposed to be because of this inclination to gambling that an entire genre of film, unique to the region, has grown around master gamblers. Which brings us to a question which has been asked many times: Why do the Chinese love to gamble?

One answer, noted by many casual observers, is that throughout Chinese history, a large percentage of the Chinese population has been dirt poor. So they hope for a miracle, a streak of luck, a big win.


H.A. Giles, the noted but now terribly dated Sinologist, wrote in his Chinese Sketches that the Chinese are constantly at gambling because of a general ennui and simple lack of anything better to do. They had, in his opinion, no national game, they aren’t big on athletics, and their chess is nothing to speak of. Apparently Giles is a strong believer in the maxim “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools.”


A more probable theory is based on the idea that gambling is closely related to the Confucian world-view. Confucianism stresses securing favors from the gods by praying to them, and sacrificing to them. In this way the Chinese hoped to gain favor for their endeavors, in short, to have good luck. Luck and the quest for good luck becomes a fundamental component of national life. It is this strong belief in Luck that leads many to gamble their meagre savings in the hope of becoming rich. So a love of gambling can be said to follow naturally from this belief in Luck.


But how does this hope for luck differ from that same hope that runs through people all over the world? Isn’t it this same irrational hope against the odds that compels millions of people to play the lottery every day in every nation of the world? Hard statistics that show the Chinese to gamble more than other ethnicities is scant.


In fact, some statistics show just the opposite. A study printed in The WAGER, The Weekly Addiction Gambling Education Report, did a telephone survey of Toronto’s Chinese community. The phone survey found that 79.6% of the community reported having gambled in their lifetime. This may seem like a lot until compared with the prevalence of gambling among the general adult population across Canada. Ontario had an 84% prevalence rate, Alberta 93%, and British Columbia 97%!


On the other hand, according to the Australian Psychological Society, anecdotal descriptions, observational accounts, and media reports suggest that asians are over-represented compared to other ethnic groups within the general population of gamblers. Asian communities are believed to be heavily involved in gambling, but interestingly, it depends on what kind of Togel online gambling is going on. Slot machines do not appear to be favored by Asian gamblers, but casino table games are. This observation coincides with the gambling films of Hong Kong, in which I don’t believe I have ever even seen a slot machine.


From reports of historical observers in China and Hong Kong in the late 1800s, everyone gambles, for everything. Even the simple act of buying bread from a street vendor becomes a gambling game. Instead of simply paying for the bread, the patron would gamble with the vendor, willing to risk getting nothing for the chance to possibly win three times as much. Coolies would bet on anything and everything as well, from how many stones are in a pile (the ancient gambling game of Fan-Tan), to which shaft of his vehicle a fly would land on first.


Whatever the truth of the stereotype of the Chinese gambler, Casinos are taking notice. In order to woo the asian market many of the big casinos are adding dealers who speak Cantonese or Mandarin, posting signs in Chinese, and hiring big name Chinese singers and comedians to perform at their hotels. Sometimes this works all too well: witness the casino in Australia that recently teeters on the edge of bankruptcy because of a huge string of wins by a high-roller from Taiwan.

Dustin Herrera

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