If you’re a U.S. gambler who plays online casino games and are thinking about visiting some local or traveling to play at Asian casinos, or you’re just someone who is curious about casino culture, it’s important to know that the experience can be quite different between Asian and Western gambling cultures and casinos.
In this blog, you’ll learn about Asian and Western gambling cultures and casinos and how they compare.
Asian Casinos and Gambling Cultures
First, here’s how Asian gambling culture works.
Asian Gambling Culture
Many Asian countries and cultures have deeply embedded beliefs in fortune and luck, which is why so many Asian countries have a long history of gambling.
China, for example, is one country with a deep connection to gambling. In their book “The Psychology of Chinese Gambling: A Cultural and Historical Perspective,” authors Chi Chuen Chan, William Wai Lim Li, and Amy Sau Lam Chiu discuss how Chinese people have been gambling for more than 4,000 years. These games were more strategically focused and played by China’s elite, but over time, as gambling became more popular amongst regular people, the games shifted towards fast experiences based on luck.
In China today, gambling is illegal in virtually the entire country except for Macau, where casino laws have legalized the practice. Despite gambling being mostly illegal, it’s still considered a widely popular form of entertainment, with the Chinese enjoying gambling during Chinese New Year or when they visit legal casinos in Macau and other parts of Asia.
Other countries like India have a similarly complex relationship with gambling. In India, gambling laws can differ from state to state (much like the U.S.), and if you’re looking to have a good time at a casino, you’ll have to visit Goa, Daman, or Sikkim. Gambling in the country is believed to have started as early as 7,300 BC. In Japan, gambling is completely banned, but some people skirt the law by playing pachinko games. South Korea is another country where gambling is banned except for a few casinos where foreigners can play and Kangwon Land, which is also open to locals.
Many other countries, such as Laos, Pakistan, and Thailand, have simply banned gambling outright, with no exceptions for casinos or sports betting, so it’s safe to say that Asian countries are divided on legal gambling as a form of entertainment.
In countries and regions in Asia where casinos legally operate, you may not spot much of a difference from their Western (especially their American) counterparts at a glance. As with other Western countries, casinos sell themselves as luxury entertainment locations where people can come to have fun, relax, and gamble. Visitors will find delicious local and international foods, crystal-clear swimming pools, majestic theaters, and other perks that are normally found in resorts and casinos across the globe.
However, the closer you look at an Asian casino, the more likely you are to notice the cultural differences that vary not just between East and West but also from country to country.
While many Asian casino buildings have distinctly modern exteriors — with some like Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands, which stands out due to the colossal “ship” resting on top of its towers — their interiors set them apart from their Western counterparts. For example, many Chinese casinos embrace casino designs with red and gold colors since these are associated with luck and wealth, respectively. Feng shui, the belief in harmonizing energy between people and their environment, is another cultural factor influencing casino interior design. Chinese casinos will often feature large, open spaces and passageways to encourage the flow of energy. In contrast, water features such as indoor fountains are used to attract people and positive energy. Ornaments and other items may be displayed in groups of lucky numbers, such as two, six, or eight.
Macau casinos also have different games dominating the casino floor, with games like baccarat and pai gow taking center stage. There is also different casino etiquette practiced compared to a Western casino. For example, even in casinos where smoking is banned, you might still find people enjoying a cigarette, and while smart clothing is encouraged, in reality, the dress code is also far more relaxed.
The appearance and experience at other Asian casinos will likely be different compared to casinos in Macau. For example, as you move more towards central and south Asia, you’ll find casinos have a mix of local and Western aesthetics and culture. However, many casinos in East Asia, such as Cambodia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, cater mostly to Chinese gamblers, meaning they’re likely very similar to casinos in Macau.
Western Gambling Cultures and Casinos
Things work differently in the West, and here’s how.
Western Gambling Culture
Gambling cultures in the West also differ from region to region, but as a whole, the West does seem to be more gambling-friendly.
European countries have enjoyed gambling since as far back as 4,000 BC. Still, like many other regions, Europe has gone through periods of prohibition of gambling as well as legalized gambling over the centuries. Today, the majority of countries in Europe have legalized many forms of gambling, including casino games, poker, sports betting, and lotteries, and you’ll find a thriving gambling culture in many European countries.
This stands in contrast to the U.S., where the legality of gambling, regardless of whether it’s casino gambling, sports betting, or poker, varies. The U.S., despite being home to Las Vegas (considered by many to be the greatest gambling city in the world), has a complicated relationship with gambling. However, it has been enjoyed in the country for hundreds of years.
Gambling, as it’s known today, is believed to have been brought to the U.S. by British and other European settlers in the early 17th century. However, an article published on the Colonial Williamsburg website titled “Gambling: Apple-Pie American and Older Than the Mayflower” shares how Native Americans wagered on stick and straw games and even had games similar to dice games that were played with peach pits.
Despite the varying legality of gambling in the U.S., the general view is that Western culture is more open to the practice as it’s legalized in most countries, with many U.S. states in particular moving towards being more gambling-friendly.
As with their Asian counterparts, Western casinos are undoubtedly a place where people go to get away from it all. They offer lavish and delicious food, as well as casino entertainment like musical and circus acts, illusionists, and golfing. If you want to have fun and don’t plan on betting, there’s still plenty to do at these locations, proving that there’s a lot more than just gambling when you live the casino life.
When it comes to their exteriors, Western casinos come in many different shapes and sizes. Many European casinos tend to be situated in pristinely kept buildings that sometimes feel like a royal manor or museum that’s been preserved for centuries. Across the Atlantic, American casinos vary from modern glass monoliths to black pyramids to modern takes on Roman architecture, all aiming to stand out and grab your attention.
Many Western casinos maintain a similar design approach when it comes to casino interiors, sometimes incorporating a splash of local flair to show off aspects of local culture. This trend could be attributed to the book “Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition” by Bill Friedman, which was once considered the seminal book on casino design.
However, Western casinos do stand out from their Asian cousins once you start to wander the casino floor. Where Asian casinos often have games like sic bo, mahjong, keno, and other games previously mentioned, Western casinos are packed with far more slot machines, blackjack, and roulette tables than Asian casinos. You’re also less likely to come across some of the most popular Asian games, although some Western casinos do have these games specifically to cater to Asian customers.
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