Gambling in My Travels

February 8, 2011

I will admit it: there’s nothing like the rush of setting a few chips in that betting circle and waiting to see what cards are dealt. Blackjack is my game of choice when I’m playing for cash, but I like to organize Texas Hold ‘Em gatherings whenever I settle in for a year. As the sole representing Texan in my area, I have to represent by introducing expats to “our” game, then beating them mercilessly… ok, I may have lost a few dozen times.

I’ve also enjoyed exploring casino culture in various countries. At the heart, I think all these companies want to be mirror images of Vegas. Observing how someone from a different country gambles, just as how he or she runs or haggles or conducts business, is a window to better understanding.


I can only speak for New Zealand. If you’re looking for gaming tables fresh off the plane in Auckland or Queenstown, Sky City is the way to go. In fact, there aren’t too many other options in the major cities. Auckland’s location is completely stocked and offering quite the Vegas experience. Hamilton’s, on the other hand… is… well… ghetto. I don’t even think there’s a private company operating out of Wellington or anywhere else on the North Island.

The South Island is another matter. There are a smattering of smaller casinos in towns like Dunedin, but again, the only way to go in Queenstown is Sky City. It’s a rather pitiful showing in the adventure capital of the world, but I guess people don’t go to hit the slots.

My recommendation? The perfect pair side bets in blackjack. Match two cards off-color for a 6:1 return, same color for a 12:1 return, and the same card for a 25:1 (I hit this one twice on a $100 bet). Although the odds definitely do NOT favor you, it gives you fighting chance, and an opportunity to beef up those stacks of chips between lousy 16s and 12s. Oh, how I hate 12s…



Macau has tried to pass itself off as the Las Vegas of Asia, but most of those rich enough to afford to waste money in casinos have the means to reach the real thing. Situated just a short ferry ride from Hong Kong, the casino area could not be sharper contrast to the rest of the country. Although the environment is certainly more lush than that of Vegas’ desert, one gets the sense of being in a ghost town outside the casino doors: sterile sidewalks with few pedestrians (buses run between the casinos), and no attractions or shops.

I was so stupid the first and only time I came to Macau. I was low on cash, and unbeknownst to be, having one of my credit cards canceled due to irregular activity abroad. I could have easily run out of funds after hitting the tables and been trapped outside of Hong Kong for who knows how long. Fortunately, I did make it to Thailand, and the rest is history.


With the exception of a few fake blackjack tables set up in arcades, gambling is illegal in Japan. The closest alternative is pachinko: a combination of a slot machine, pinball, and video screens. Quite possibly the loudest environment imaginable… and the game itself isn’t that fun, in my humble opinion.

South Korea


Trying out the casinos in Korea has been quite the adventure, especially since Koreans aren’t allowed inside. There are two big chains: Seven Luck and Paradise, operating out of Busan, Daegu, Seoul, and Jeju-do. In addition, many of the bigger hotel chains control casinos on Jeju-do and around skiing reports. Take Taebaek (태백) for instance: the Kangwon Land Resort is the only casino in the country open to Koreans. In Seoul and Busan, I usually just see Japanese businessmen throwing down 10,000 yen notes like there’s no tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how the locals gamble, and celebrate their wins.

Oh, and my perfect pair bet? It still exists in South Korea, but there’s no distinction for color or perfect matches: any pair pays 11:1.

One Response to Gambling in My Travels

  1. Andrea on February 10, 2011 at 1:12 am

    The Crown Casino in Melbourne is the best in Australia. We used to live a ten minute walk away. Just in case you’re ever looking to gamble in Oz 😉

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