From the August 2008 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Luck and the Chinese

Two huge casinos in Connecticut--Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun--send more than 100 buses every day to pick up customers in predominantly Asian neighborhoods of Boston and New York. The number of buses doubles on Chinese New Year, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In a Washington Post article titled "Casinos Are Aggressively Courting Asian Americans," I learned that Foxwoods Resort Casino (the world's biggest in terms of gambling floor space) estimates that at least a third of its customers are Asian. Mohegan Sun says Asian spending makes up one-fifth of its business and is growing. The casinos bring in Asian rock stars and entertainment personalities, sponsor the Boston Dragon Boat Festival and an Asian beauty pageant in Toronto, and shower their bused-in customers with coupons for free food and gambling.

If financial advisors knew as much about Asians as the casinos do, they'd have a much better chance of attracting them as clients. Casino dealers know not to touch Chinese customers on the shoulder -- a sign of bad luck. They don't say the number 4, which sounds like the word for death. ("Nine" also sounds to the Japanese like the word for pain.) At Pai Gow and baccarat tables, which have numbered seats, Foxwoods has even omitted the No. 4 seat. Talk about cultural sensitivity!

How does a propensity for gambling jibe with the tendency to save? Surely people don't accumulate money just for the pleasure of risking it on games of chance?

The underlying motivation may have a lot to do with joss, which has connotations of both "luck" and "fate." It's an important factor in the lives of many Chinese, whose philosophy is often a blend of Christianity and Buddhism/Taoism. Gambling is a way of inviting good joss, which can make a person wealthy in a heartbeat.

By busing in groups of friends and families, the casinos add a social aspect to the possibility of getting rich. Gambling at Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods doesn't require language skills, offers noodle bars and familiar games of chance, and is affordable for even low-income immigrants. "Our Asian blood loves to feel the luck," Ernie Wu, director of Asian marketing at Foxwoods, says in the Washington Post article. His customers don't call it gambling, he adds. "We call it entertainment."

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