Chinese people are known to be very superstitious. Their adherence to superstition is widely practiced in their society and has become an almost indispensable part of their culture. It is only natural that their fascination and belief in the forces of luck extend towards their predilection for gambling.
Among the Chinese people’s more commonly held superstitions is their strong belief in numerology, that one’s fortune can be affected by certain numbers. Gamblers would purposely avoid hotel rooms numbered “4” (which sounds like the Cantonese word for “die”) or “58” (similar to Cantonese word for “won’t prosper”), and would instead choose rooms numbered “84” (sounds like Cantonese for “prosperous till death”) or “18” (Cantonese for “definitely prosper”). The number “8” is associated by the Chinese with prosperity, while the number “4” is synonymous with death. The numbers “3,” “6” and “9” are regarded as “good numbers” which can improve one’s odds of winning in gambling by combining them with an “8” or with other numbers. Such good combinations of numbers include “1388” (Cantonese for “prosperity in one’s lifetime”), “168” (“prosper all the way”), and “998” (“prosper for a long time”).
Choosing the wrong number combination can spell disaster. For instance, a Chinese gambler takes a bus to a Macau casino and later notices that license plate on the bus was “QF 1358” (sounding like Cantonese for “won’t prosper in one’s lifetime”). The gambler loses and blames the bad luck on the license plate’s “bad” numbers.
There are some superstitious Chinese gamblers who would even resort to performing religious rituals, traditionally at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, or just before the initiation of a gambling activity. They would light up joss sticks, offer fruits, or merely pray to the gods so that they may be blessed with prosperity and good luck. There is also the belief in feng shui, the system of knowledge that teaches how to harness positive and negative forces, or “chi,” and use them to one’s advantage. Whether one considers it an actual science or purely superstition, feng shui is nonetheless an acknowledged part of Chinese culture. One common feng shui practice is the arrangement of furniture at home to ward off bad luck (the negative chi) and bring in good fortune (the positive chi). Some superstitious gamblers would also refrain from passing a Chinese casino’s main entrance for fear that they may have been blessed or cursed by a feng shui practitioner or geomancer.
While the Chinese gambling superstitions just discussed are governed by some cosmic rationale, there are also some gambling superstitions that are rather irrational and idiosyncratic. For instance, it is bad luck to touch someone’s shoulders while that person is gambling. One should also not talk about books while gambling, because the Chinese word for “book” is similar to “lose.” Males are advised to abstain from sex and stay away from women before gambling, while a female gambler is more likely to win when she is having her menstrual period. Good luck at gambling can be attained by wearing red underwear, and gamblers who have been losing money can improve their luck simply by taking a piss.
Gambling is defined as a game of chance. As chance is a force that cannot be physically controlled, Chinese gamblers look to the metaphysical solution promised by their many superstitious beliefs. Not all who practice them necessarily believe in them, but they are nonetheless accepted as they have made the leap from mere superstition to cultural tradition.