Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Lady Luck And The Lady From Shanghai

Having an occasional ‘flutter’ on a horse race, the roulette wheel or the lottery roll-over is an understandable human foible.  Somebody has to win, after all.  Serious, regular gambling, on the other hand, seems to be “the triumph of hope over experience”, (which is actually the way the great English man of letters Samuel Johnson described second marriages).

Hope’s ascendancy over experience seems to be unusually high among Chinese people.  Betting on games of chance in China was recorded as long ago as 2000 BC.  Back in dynastic days, official crackdowns on gambling were frequent, but were often undermined by the problem that the officials charged with enforcing them were mostly addicted gamblers themselves.

Today’s Chinese still optimistically troop to casino complexes like the City of Dreams, whose neon signs enjoin them to “sign up, play, change your life!”.  It only seems to occur to a few that the ‘life-change’ may be for the worse. 

What makes the Chinese a nation of inveterate gamblers and risk-takers?  A big reason is the pervasive Chinese belief in luck, fate and superstition, all deeply embedded in the national culture. Fate is something real and external, and to thwart its baleful influence you have to do specific things to improve your good fortune.

Some examples: dedicated gamblers in China will avoid the sight of monks or nuns, since accidentally glimpsing either can stop you winning for a whole evening.  Wearing red underwear greatly improves your chances at the tables, as does switching all the lights on before you leave home.  When you get to the casino, you need to enter by a side-door, never the front entrance, or you have only yourself to blame when you lose all your stake money.

The people running the casinos don’t seem to believe in luck to quite the same extent.  They rely instead on the careful study of human psychology.  Slot-machines have been engineered to increase the number of ‘near misses’, since this helps to keep people feeding in their money.  A Las Vegas casino chain has designed a system that pinpoints the moment when progressive losses are about to stop a person betting.  If they walk out in disgust, you’ve lost them.  So the house steps in just before the ‘guest’ loses big, and offers him or her a free meal or a show ticket – based of course on software that has identified unsold seats, so that the ‘generous’ offer costs the casino effectively nothing.  Cheered by this largesse, the gambler comes back later, and resumes losing money in ‘tolerable’ increments.

Ni hao.  Feeling lucky?

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: Asia / Pacific Product – Leisure