Special Report – … and it all started in China

3000 years before Macau was the gambling capital of the world, Keno was born in China.

MB October 2020 Special Report | The Chinese Gambler


“Gaming as a source of entertainment and leisure has existed in Asia for centuries. In many Asian cultures, betting-type games are an integral part of people’s lives. ”Eyes on casino gaming in China: Residents’ attitudes towards precasino development in Sanya paper reads: “Traditional gambling in Asia included sports betting, animal races, cards, and cockfights. Asians used to gamble at home, on the streets, and in some traditional simplified versions of casinos.” 

But if the gaming has tradition and history in Asia in general, it is in China that we find its origin.

“The very first accounts of human gambling were recorded in China,” stated Professor Desmond Lam from the University of Macau. “Keno, a form of gambling product, was played in China since 3,000 years ago,” during the Han Dynasty. And was recorded in every dynasty since then.

All sources agree: gambling was very popular in ancient China and throughout Chinese history “despite under strict regulatory controls and, sometimes banned,” adds Professor Lam.

Before, like now, to the Chinese, social gambling is a common activity.

Chinese people spread mahjong worldwide, during festive periods like Chinese New Year. “Perhaps these attitudes toward social gambling are a reflection of Chinese values and culture,” we can read in Global Gaming Business magazine. Other modern games like lottery or fan tan are thought to have originated in China.

Not only is it normal to see people, including the young, playing mahjong during Chinese wedding dinners, but even in funeral wakes.

Even before Macau became the Asian gambling capital in the late 19th century, Shanghai was the city where the wealthiest gamblers flocked, mainly in the Shanghai International Settlement and Shanghai French Concession.

“The greater incidence of problematic gambling in Asian cultural groups (especially Chinese) generates the following question: What are the cultural variables that are likely to influence gambling behaviour?” question the research Culture and gambling fallacies. “Much of the cross-cultural gambling literature points to the influence of sociocultural and familial variables. Historical, traditional, and social influences (such as the popularity of dice and card games throughout history in China, or gambling as a central feature in social events and festivals) may be keys to cultural-specific perceptions that gambling is a normal and approvable lifestyle choice.”

MB October 2020 Special Report | See > The myth of the Chinese gambler