Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Piece Of The Action

I have a good friend, Anna, originally from China and now a U.S. citizen, whose parents from the mainland visit often. Anna once told me a hilarious story about her mother's first trip to Las Vegas. Now, Anna's mother is one of those tough older Chinese ladies. She's been through a lot, she's blunt to the point of, well, bluntness. I wouldn't mess with her. Still, she doesn't speak English, and as I recall, this trip took place before she'd had much experience with doing things in the U.S. What happened was, Anna's husband (native American, no Chinese language) and Anna's mom somehow got separated in one of those huge Vegas casinos, something about taking different escalators, him watching her descend out of sight as he went up, and then he just couldn't find her. He spent hours searching the casino, looking for her, frantic - Anna's mother doesn't speak English, she's in a strange city, in the blinking, beeping chaos of a Vegas casino. It got to be around 4 in the morning. And finally, at last, he finds her. At the slot machines. Happy as can be.

I recalled this story as I read the featured article in today's LA Times about the Chinese government's campaign to curtail illegal gambling. A series of high-profile scandals involving government officials absconding with public funds and blowing them at casinos has prompted Beijing to crack down on underground gambling venues, which apparently spring up, get closed down and re-open with all the persistence of crab-grass.

Many in China are skeptical of the effort:
"We call these campaigns a 'gust of wind,'" said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist with People's University in Beijing. "It blows the dust away, but as soon as the wind stops, the dust comes back. The central government aim of halting gambling is totally unrealistic."
Gambling is deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture, according to these experts.
"Chinese are the biggest gamblers in the world," said Hu, the economics professor. "Thousands of years under an imperial system that tries to keep people down leads to a mentality of trying to become super-rich overnight, preferably without the hard work."
Critics of Beijing's policy point out that China is losing billions of dollars (72 billion dollars last year, according to one study) of Chinese gambling money overseas, to popular destinations like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and even North Korea (in casinos built and operated by Chinese businessmen).

Rather than crack down, these experts suggest, Beijing should consider legalized gambling that is tightly controlled. Even conservative countries like Singapore and Malaysia are opening casinos to attract Chinese tourists. Why shouldn't China get a piece of its own action?

Great article, give it a read.


Anonymous said...

Just want to say it is an excellent article. The casinos in Lousiana and Atlantic city are always filled with Asian faces, both Chinese and Vietnamese. Chinese love to gamble, especially the southerners who love to play MahJong.

My Chinese friend is a mathematic genius, who can calculate cards and had a complicated winning theory he wanted to prove in Las Vegas. His theory is eventually proven but we ended up losing too much money (pure bad luck) before we can apply his method.

Other Lisa said...

Dear JR,

Spoken like a true gambler!

Glad you enjoyed the article - I liked the part where it talks about the 3000 year old dice. I don't think China's anti-gambling campaign has a chance.

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