Gambling in Asian Culture and History

Asians are some of the biggest gamblers in the world. Gambling is such a usual feature of life among many Asians that they consider it a tolerable, if normal, part of their culture.

Today, Asian immigrants to the United States and other Western countries have brought their gambling habits with them. Often locals are unable to keep up with the Asian passion for gaming. Many casinos in the State of California, for example, say that Asians account for a whopping 80% of their patrons. Some say this propensity to gamble among immigrants is caused by the fact that Asians, especially the Chinese, have restricted access to gambling in their home countries, and are only too glad to exploit their newfound freedom in a Western society.

No other Asian race is as fond of gambling as the Chinese are. Gambling is deeply ingrained in their culture and is an accepted form of social intercourse. It is said in China that "a little gambling is good for the health, but too much can drive you mad." In weddings, parties and gatherings, it is quite normal for people to play mah jong all night with money at stake.

One of the oldest board games in the world, go, originated in China in 3,000-4,000 B.C. Some say it began as a form of divination, for the Chinese were avid astrologers. Others say go was invented by a king to improve his son's weak mental faculties. Today, go and mah jong are still believed to keep one's mind sharp and alert even in advanced age. Pai gow and sci bo are other games in Chinese gambling culture.

In Indian culture, gambling was also popular. In fact, the Eastern obsession with games of chance is perhaps no better illustrated than in a story from the Indian epic Mahabharata. The five Pandava brothers had been invited by their cousin Shakuni, a skilled gambler, to play with him. One of the brothers, Yudhishthira, took up the challenge. He lost repeatedly, losing his wealth, his kingdom and even his four brothers and himself.

Finally, in a desperate bid, Yudhishthira put their one wife Draupadi at stake - and lost her too. Shakuni summoned her and insulted her. Draupadi argued that since her husbands were already slaves, they had no right to put her at stake and the bet was void. Shakuni's father listened and let her and her husbands go. But the insults hurled at their wife so enraged the Pandava brothers that they declared war on their relatives. This bloody war of kin versus kin lasted a long time and cost many lives. The war is the backdrop of the Bhagavad-Gita.

Such are the drastic consequences of gambling sometimes.

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