Feel­ing Lucky? From red un­der­wear to black cats, gam­bling su­per­sti­tions up the ante

High Stakes & Su­per­sti­tions


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:


• 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. (And old be­lief, but cute.)


• 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 old MGM Grand in Las Ve­gas). • 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, fol­lowed by 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.

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. Good Luck!

Terri Mor­ri­son is a speaker and co-author of nine books, in­clud­ing Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Best­selling Guide to Do­ing Busi­ness in More Than Sixty Coun­tries, and her new book, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Sales & Mar­ket­ing. She is pres­i­dent of Get­ting Through Cus­toms, de­vel­op­ers of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Dig­i­tal - avail­able through McGraw-Hill. Twit­ter @Kis­sBowAuthor. (610) 725-1040.

Visit kiss­bowor­shake­hands.com

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