A Gambler’s Trip to China: How to Play the best East Asian Casino Games

Chinese culture is ancient and revered, and since its dawn, the Chinese (and the rest of East Asia) have been laying bets!

Betting is a big – and sometimes problematic – part of East Asian culture, and now the globe is shrinking and China is opening up, the games made in China (or adopted in East Asia) are available around the world.

Here’s our selection of four of the best for you to try with a brief guide. Chinese culture is much bigger than its gambling games and perhaps betting on the tiles of Pai Gow will inspire you to look more deeply into it.

We hope so!

And now back to the gambling!

Pai Gow

Pai Gow

Pai Gow (which has a modern counterpart in the form of Pai Gow Poker) is around 1,000 years old and the western game it looks most like is dominoes because it is played with tile-like game pieces.

Pai Gow is traditionally played with 7 players, 1 dealer and 32 numbered tiles. The tiles are laid face down and shuffled before being sorted into 8 sets of 4 tiles called woodpiles.

Players lay bets before being handed one of the piles which are then sorted into two pairs, called the high hand and the low hand. The player must beat the hand of the dealer – beating the total in each hand. If the player wins both hands they win their bet, if they win just won they keep their stake.

There are 36,000 possible variants from the 32 tiles so there are a lot of potential outcomes to this game, which is based more on good fortune than great skill. Learning the ranking of the pairs is the biggest skill in this game.

Pai Gow poker takes this tile game and translates it into a card game with two cards hands, of five and two cards, standing in for the pairs in the original tile game.

Keno

Keno is a little like a lottery and also has a history dating back hundreds of years. It is believed that keno games helped to raise the money used to fund the Great Wall of China. Who knows how true that is as East Asian gamblers are as prone to making up attractive stories as their western counterparts.

Keno is now commonly available in UK casinos both on and offline. In the flesh, it’s a visually striking game with a gigantic frame of numbers making up the playing area on which players bet. Online, it’s not quite the shattering sound and visual experience of the casino games but it’s a gambler’s favourite.

Players pick between 2 and 10 numbers from a set of 80 before 20 numbers are chosen at random and players awarded their winning bets. Bets are paid according to a paytable that is particular to each game instance.

Most games allow you to click a button to make a selection for you. This really is a game of pure luck and can give some really impressive prizes.

Interested? Check these keno sites!

Sic Bo

Sic bo is often listed alongside Baccarat and it is the archetypal game of the Macau casinos, a former Portuguese enclave on the Chinese coast that had (like Hong Kong) slightly different laws, including relaxed gambling laws.

The name translates literally as dice pair and that’s what we’re playing here, a very simple, very classic and very rewarding dice game that’s as big in Atlantic City as it is anywhere in East Asia.

Sic bo uses three dice that are thrown by a dealer using a small box. The dice are shaken inside the chest before revealing the final result and rewarding players who have bet on the right combination.

Bets are placed in a similar way to roulette, with a lot of pre-set options to pick from.

The Big bet pays out if the total shown on the dice is between 11 and 17. It pays evens.

The Small bet pays out if the total on the dice is between 4 and 10 with another evens pay out.

Triple numbers invalidate both of these bets.

Odds is a bet on an odd-numbered total, again excluding triples with evens pay out. The matching bet is evens, offered on the same terms.

Players can bet on a chosen triple, and it pays out between 150 and 215 to 1.

Doubles pays out 8 to 11 to 1.

You can also bet that there will be any triple, for a 30 to 1 pay out.

Various other bets include different total ranges; specific pairs appearing; single number bets; combination bets with four numbers of which three must hit; particular combinations of doubles and single numbers.

Baccarat

Baccarat is French, but it has been adopted by East Asian, and specifically Macau to such an extent that it is almost always presented with East Asian trimmings (of varying degrees of cultural sensitivity).

Baccarat has a reputation as being cool and sophisticated – thank you James Bond! – and of being associated with high rollers. Like most casino games it is both simple and quite complicated. And like most casino games it invites players to believe that strategy and skills have a role to play when really it is completely a game of chance – this time the bet is on the sum of a set of dealt cards.

There are a number of ways of playing the game, most often players watch on and bet on whether the banker will win (the best value bet), with the tie being the longest shot and the least good value for the player.

The main rule variant is a fun one for the internet age because it’s an entirely physical tick, the squeeze – the opportunity for the dealer to raise a corner of the hidden card to give the player a hint.

You can play Baccarat at these baccarat casinos, often alongside Dragon Tiger, a more overtly East Asian styled game, in a number of variants, most often based around the squeeze or high-speed games.