Lucky (#180)

Once upon a time, Andy headed off to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. When he came back, I asked how many strip clubs they’d hit.

He said, “None.”

I said, “Liar.”

He said, “No, really,” and handed me some expensive chocolates.

I said, “Exhibit A! Chocolates wrapped in guilt!”

He laughed and said, “You don’t want them?”

“What? Of course I want them. Guilt chocolate tastes the same as regular chocolate.”

Andy handed me another gift — golden earrings. I gasped and said, “What, were there full on hookers?”

He laughed some more. “It wasn’t that kind of party. There was only one white guy.”

“I’m scared to ask what the hell kind of party it WAS! How come you’re giving me all these presents, if not out of guilt?”

Andy shrugged. “I won a lot at the craps table.”

“What? You mean you guys went to Vegas and all you did was GAMBLE? I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

“You haven’t been hanging out with enough Chinese people, then.”


I did a little research on gambling while Chinese. Not because I was suspicious, of course, but because I’d never heard about the Chinese gambling issue.

Apparently, I live under a rock. Chinese gambling is huge – and a huge problem. Psychologists theorize that cultural emphasis on numerology, superstition, and luck make gambling especially popular. Games such as Mahjong are an attractive social activity…and possibly gambling’s gateway to casino action.

In Chinese-American immigrants, gambling is even more prevalent. Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, explains, “Folks who come here to take a chance and come to America are more likely to gamble because immigrating to America from your homeland is a huge gamble in and of itself.”

1-2% of the population in the United States has a gambling addiction. Problem gambling in the Asian-American population ranges from 6-60%.

Las Vegas recently opened a huge new casino – the Lucky Dragon – to cater to the Chinese gambler. The Lucky Dragon has no high-end bars or nightclubs. There are no shows. The swimming pool is tiny. This casino is all about the gaming, and their Mandarin-speaking staff aim to get their guests to the table with as few distractions as possible.

Within months of opening, the Lucky Dragon turned one of its few restaurants into a VIP gaming room. None of their guests cared about something as trivial as food – they wanted tables for baccarat instead. And they got them.

When my in-laws originally announced their visit, they planned to visit Vegas. I crossed my fingers, hoping they wouldn’t lose their retirement savings and have to move in with us some day.

They changed their minds and decided to spend their entire visit at our small house in Los Angeles.

I figured they’d realized the house always wins and wanted to save money.

I was half wrong. Sunny and Jay saved money by avoiding hotel and airfare to Vegas. But that was only because they had another plan.

My in-laws had discovered, through the wonders of the internet, California Tribal Gaming. Because American Indian Tribes are technically sovereign, they aren’t subject to state laws regulating gambling. Some of their casinos are within driving distance of LA.

They wanted me to drive them there and back again.

I refused. I have no interest in gambling. I loathe casinos, where the desperation is as tangible as the cigarette smoke. I would have no part in the bankrupting of my in-laws and – more importantly — no part of the I-10 Freeway during rush hour.

I told them this in no uncertain terms, of course: “Sorry Jay, Sorry, Sunny, there’s just…no way I can leave the dogs that long.”

Dogs are almost as good at providing excuses as they are at farting.

Sunny and Jay never take no for an answer, of course. They told me the dogs could hold their pee, or be left in the yard.

I countered with stories of Woofie’s bottomless holes.

Sunny told me to get a pet-sitter. I told her how expensive pet-sitters are.

She told me she would win more than enough money to pay the sitter.

“You can’t,” I argued. “It’s simple math. Even craps offers the house a .8% edge.”

“That’s why I play the slot machines.”

“What?! Sunny, that’s so much worse! The house has something like a 17% edge!”

“Not for me. I am lucky!”

I don’t know about lucky, but my mother-in-law was determined. By the end of the evening, she and Jay had convinced Andy to take them gambling. On the Friday before the family barbeque. This meant I’d have to do most of the prep work. But since was my only chance to be alone in weeks, I sent them on their way with a cheerful wave.

Then I spent all day baking desserts and cleaning.

Well, not all day. At 5:30 PM I got a blissful half-hour on our backyard swing in the sunshine. I even allowed Woofie on the swing with me. We smelled the orange blossoms, enjoyed the singing birds, and thought life was good.

Until I heard the doors of our brand new, less-than-a-month-old car slam. Sunny yelled, “Did Andy tell you?! It’s not good!”

“No! What? Is everything okay?” I asked. “Did he re-injure his knee? Is he okay?!”

Sunny’s next words do nothing to alleviate my concerns.

“Not good, not good!”

Not helpful, not helpful! I was running for the car when Andy appeared. He looks miserable.

“What’s wrong, are you okay?!”

Andy shook his head. “A rock hit the windshield on the interstate.”

“Oh, crap. How bad?”

“Not good!” Sunny interrupted. “I see the rock coming, I tell him swerve, but he doesn’t! The rock hit the glass. Not good!” She shook her head. Obviously, this could all have been avoided if her son had only listened to her.

Andy’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing. He knew it was useless to tell Sunny that if he had swerved on the freeway at over 75 mph, none of them would be standing there. His parents didn’t grow up driving cars. They have never driven a car over 45 mph, in fact. (This is possible in Hawaii, where the only highway has a speed limit of 50 mph.)

I led Andy to the swing, put my arms around him, and told him to smell the orange tree.

Sunny wandered around the yard, telling the dogs and the birds that it is, “Not good! Not good! Very bad.”

I’d had enough. “So, Sunny, how much money did you win?”

“Oh, well, you know, that casino is no good.”

“Really? Sunny, did you lose money? But you said you were so lucky, you would win money!”

Sunny edged away. “I’m lucky. Just a bad casino. But only lost a little money.”

In my white world, you never ask about money. But my in-laws had no such scruples and I was on a mission of vengeance. I did the unthinkable. “How much money did you lose, Sunny?”

“Just a little,” Sunny mumbled, then fled into the house.

We sat in silence and orange fragrance for a few minutes. Then my husband told me how much money his parents lost.

“Gah!” I sputtered. “There’s no ‘little’ about THAT. And there’s no ‘lucky,’ either!”

But later, looking at the sider-webbing crack in our new windshield, I realized that a minor incident could have been much worse.

The rock could have been much bigger.

Andy could have listened to his mother.

The rock might have been tossed at another car. That driver might have panicked, swerved, hit the brakes, and caused a massive accident.

Maybe Sunny was pretty lucky after all.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

21 thoughts on “Lucky (#180)”

  1. Sounds like my Christmas Miracle in, I think, 2005. Short version is I blew a tire on an empty road going 40 on Christmas Eve… three hours after arriving in from , which trip I made at an average of 75.

  2. Don’t mention Mahjong. My wife told me that MIL used to play it every evening and came each evening home in a terrible mood because she lost (again). My wife can’t even remember that her mom even won once…each night just losing for like 20 years. In fact she gambled away her husbands income for several years so they lived on her little retirement money during those years. She gambled so much that she even got a humpback because she positions her body in a way that she hoped nobody could see her deck :p
    Oh and MIL’s brother aint any better. As he had many trips with his boss to Macau, the Chinese Las Vegas, gambling like insane ducks. Once he lost within one night 250.000 RMB!!! That equals his 5 year income!! Lucky him that the boss paid everything (who is also his best friend)

  3. “I am lucky” LOL, I could barely stop grinning at that. Sunny has no idea how right she was when the rock hit the windshield, and none of them got glassed too. No money she lost could buy luck like that, coming out of some unforseen accident. Try explaining that to her again…you probably won’t get very far.

    My Chinese family are big on mahjong. At every family gathering there will always be a table and they can easily play it from morning to night, especially around the end of year family gatherings, and right before the Chinese New Year. Gambling my money isn’t my thing either. A few years ago, me and a Chinese friend went to the casino here in Melbourne. She played roulette wheel and each time bet either a red or black chip, $5 per bet. She ended up winning ten times in a row and walked away with $55. Not bad at all. I’ve won around $20 at most on the slots once. But it is very,very rare that I go anymore as I like to keep my money.

    1. Me, too. I think keeping one’s money is a very good idea. When we pass through Vegas, I send Andy off to the tables with $100. He comes back when he’s spent it all — or, as he says, “had three glasses of bourbon costing $33.00 each.” I guess the drinks are free if you keep playing. 🙂

  4. Uh, I hate gambling. It is actually forbidden in China, but people still do it in private when they play mahjong or cards. And then they go to Macau for the casinos…

  5. My husband didn’t even like to play cards. I think it’s because his mother went overboard on mahjong. His aunt in Manila was also a big gambler. In the Old West, the Chinese workers always had basement gambling dens. The remnants of them are part of the Underground Seattle Tour.

    A famous incident in Seattle was the 1983 Wah Mee massacre in … You guessed it … a Chinatown gambling club.

    Yeah. The Chinese definitely are famous for gambling. I like your explanation about numerology, superstition, and luck. Another thing I might add is a big interest in money and wealth.

    Although I’ve never gambled with more than $20 or so, I sort of understand how a gambler might feel. After I lose at a card game or board game or a game of ping pong, I feel like I can do better next time so I want to play again and again until I finally win. Maybe that’s the way a gambler feels. Just a theory. Of course wanting to win is one thing; betting money on it is another. I’m part Scottish. We’re not big on wasting money.

    1. You know, that’s what’s so strange about the Chinese love of gambling — normally, they are so frugal, they don’t ever waste money. But they will waste a ton on gambling! It makes no sense to me.

  6. Many years ago I visited New Orleans, and one day I got some free time to walk around the city. I passed by Harrah’s and decided to take a look inside (not a gambler; just look around). Nearly all signs over playing tables had Chinese captions, and they even had pai gow tables. Fast forward last year, when I passed by a DC Metro bus stop, I saw a commercial board of a Maryland casino – all Chinese captions with no English (except the name of the casino) at all! The commercial board was not even setup in DC Chinatown. I have yet to see a Chinese commercial board for the new casino at National Harbor, but I guess it’s just a matter of time.

    1. Wow. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. There was a news story recently about how Millennials don’t gamble and Vegas is losing money. Casinos have done their research and moved onto a new mark. 🙁

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