It’s no secret that we like a casino. So we’re probably not the most impartial people to judge, but it seems to us that they’re better today that they have ever been. They’re certainly bigger than ever before (we’re thinking about the mega-casinos in Macau specifically, but Crown Melbourne is a whole city block!), and there are more people enjoying them. Competition from online casinos has pushed the bricks-and-mortar to reinvent themselves as the casino resorts we’re seeing today, and they’re offering so much more than just the table games we know and love. With luxury hotels, decadent spas, high-end shops in enormous shopping malls – not to mention the sort of choice of games that sets a casino fan’s mouth watering at the very thought of them – today’s casino resorts are worth more than just an afternoon’s investment of time. They’ve become holiday destinations in their own right.
And the eyes of the world are on the casino resorts of the Pacific. It used to be that when we thought about casinos, and when we talked about casinos, it was Vegas that was on our minds. But that’s changed in the past decade or so. These days, it’s the Macau casino hub that’s the biggest-grossing attraction on the bill, and some of the brightest stars in the pantheon of modern casino resorts are dotted around the Pacific Rim. We even have a few here in Australia – casino resorts that don’t just survive in the most competitive market in the world, but thrive. And in each and every one of those Australian casinos, not to mention the rest of the headline-grabbing casino resorts throughout Asia, some of the most popular and best loved games are also some of the oldest – the casino games that have been the most popular throughout Asia and especially in China for literally thousands of years. Where we used to think of Baccarat and Roulette as the hottest games at the casino, are we starting to accept traditional Asian table games in their place at the heart of the modern casino resort?
So what’s the recipe for success that has made casino resorts in Asia the world leaders, from Singapore to Macau and here in Australia? One of the things that makes them the palaces of gambling that they are is a selection of traditionally-Asian table games – these are the games that give a casino resort in Asia it’s personality, and we’re planning to give you a run-down of our favourites here, complete with a little history, a little insight, and a good few reasons why you should play them all every time you get the chance!
Asian Table Games
We like a bet in Australia – you only have to think of Melbourne Cup day to know how much. And we tend to think that we’ve got things sorted when it comes to the casino resorts, too – after all, some of the best casino resorts in Asia are here in Australia (maybe some of the best in the world...). But if you think the casinos are big business here in Australia, then the trade they do in the rest of Asia will blow you away – especially in Macau, which a while back outstripped Las Vegas to become planet earth’s premier casino destination.
And when it comes to the games all those casino fans are playing in the casino resorts in China and all around Asia, there’s a lot that the rest of the world should be paying attention to, and could learn from. Gambling in Asia has the sort of history that makes your head spin: 3000 years is a long time, and you get the impression all those games that suddenly appear in the first written records didn’t just spring up from nowhere. Keno was used as a kind of state lottery to help fund the building of the Great Wall, and both Go and Mahjong have established themselves over the millennia as not only extremely popular games, but also as games requiring deep thought and careful strategy.
So where European casinos have Roulette, Blackjack and the timeless Craps, casino resorts in Asia feature (alongside those European games) Asian table games that are guaranteed to add colour and personality to your visit. Below are a few that you should definitely try if you find yourself in Macau or anywhere else in Asia – or if you see them here in Australia!
We’ve already said that Keno is a game with serious history. Popular in ancient China (where it was used to fund the building of the Great Wall, or so the story goes...) and brought to the West by immigrants, where it found instant popularity, Keno has been a firm favourite since before there were books to write about it in. For a game with such incredible history, you’ll find that Keno is instantly recognisable – this is the grand-daddy of all the bingo games and lottery games that you could care to mention, and as is fitting with such a venerable old staple of the gambling houses of the world, Keno comes in an astonishing array of styles and formats. Throughout the world, you’ll see Keno in hundreds of different guises, often looking different and playing by slightly different rules even within the same casino. And what’s true of the variety of Keno available outside Asia is doubly true of what you’ll find if you visit the casino resorts in Asia. So be ready to see hundreds of different ways to play this classic game – but don’t worry about struggling to understand them. The beauty of Keno is surely in its intuitive rules and in the speed of its play. See the numbers, match the numbers. Easy, fun, colourful and ubiquitous in Asia’s casino resorts – Keno will be one of the first games that catches your eye when you walk into those casinos, and you’re missing out if you’re not giving it a go!
It might be Mahjong that you’ll see being played most outside of casinos in Asia, but it’s probably Pai Gow that’s the most famous international export when it comes to Asian caisno games. You’ll be amazed to learn, no doubt, that Pai Gow is a Chinese game with an incredible history behind it – it’s probably the inspiration for another of the world’s most popular casino games, Baccarat (but more on that later...). Since the Song Dynasty (that’s about 1000AD to you and me), Pai Gow has been a crowd pleaser at Asian casinos, and these days it has genuine world-wide appeal. This is a rock-star casino game, and it’s appearing and gaining converts in casino resorts from the US, through Canada to New Zealand, here in Australia and all around the Pacific Rim. If you haven’t tried Pai Gow, you need to get yourself to your nearest casino and set that right!
At first glance, Pai Gow looks to us like really cool dominos, but there’s lots more going on than in that nostalgic classic! It’s not the easiest game to get the hang of, you’d have to say, but casinos work hard to help you out – friendly staff are always on hand to set you straight, and a list of winning hands will be prominently displayed. Because that’s what you’re looking for when you play Pai Gow, a pair of ‘hands’ that you’re hoping will beat the dealer’s hands, bagging you a win. You’ll find a guide to Pai Gow elsewhere on the site, so we won’t go into too much detail here, but let us just say that after a couple rounds, we were well into the swing of Pai Gow, and really enjoying it. This is definitely one of those Asian table games that make Asia’s casino resorts worth the trip in terms of gaming (there are plenty of other reasons to go, of course!)
Whilst we’re on the subject of Pai Gow, it’s worth mentioning Pai Gow Poker, which is a game that’s really taking off all around the world, and bringing a little bit of that exciting flavour of the Asian casinos closer to home. The basic two-hand premise remains, but you’ll be making to traditional Poker hands in Pai Gow Poker, and hoping to beat the dealer on both to win. A big part of the appeal here is the same as in true Pai Gow: whilst you need to win both hands to claim the money, the dealer needs to beat both of yours for you to lose your money. There’s a little bit of a safety net for you in Pai Gow, so you can really enjoy the game – and we recommend you do just that whenever you get the chance!
Have you ever wished that there were more casino games that combined the best elements of your favourites? Pai Gow Poker above, for instance, that gives you a little bit of dominos and a little bit of Poker to make a great game. And if you like Roulette and Craps as games (and who doesn’t?), then the combination of the two is going to keep you coming back for more – Sic Bo has always been a popular game in casinos all around Asia, and we’re glad to see it taking off here in Australia and all around the world.
The game is basically the exotic child of Roulette and Craps. Like Roulette, it has a board layout that looks complicated (and looks fantastic, too, by the way...), but that will make complete sense to you from about your third go onwards. Like Craps, the focus of the game is on the dice that are thrown – three of them, in Sic Bo – and on the numbers that come up on them. One of the easy things to love about Sic Bo is the very many betting options you’ve got (think Roulette, with groups of numbers, single numbers and all sorts of other combinations available), but this is a quick and exciting game, too, especially at a big, busy table at a casino in Macau, or in the Philippines, where the game is very popular. It’s fair to say that this is a game of chance in a pretty pure form, so you won’t have to worry about refining a strategy for this one – just trust to Lady Luck and roll the bones!
You might have seen that the headlines of the Racing press over the Melbourne Spring were dominated by Japanese horses, who make the (relatively) short trip to Australia to run in our big races. It seems odd to think that gambling is so tightly controlled in Japan, given the thriving Racing scene, but that’s the truth of it. There are a few exceptions, and there’s one in particular that's excellent fun and about as whimsical as anything you’ll see in a casino or anywhere else: Pachinko.
Imagine a slot machine crossed with a pinball wizard, but with all the bells, whistles and awesome animations that you associate with the best things electronic gadgets come out of Japan, and you’re somewhere close. What makes Pachinko so appealing, and what makes it a worthy addition to this list, is that the aim of the game is as much to have fun as it is to win. Gambling for cash prizes isn’t allowed on the Pachinko machines, and they’re provided as a form of entertainments as much as for the prizes, so you’ll definitely find yourself enjoying these quirky machines. All you need to do is catch as many of the pinball-like balls as you can, which the machine will give you to swap for prizes at the nearby booth. It’s illegal to take cash as a prize in a Pachinko parlour itself, but you can almost always swap the prize tokens for cash once you leave. But that kind of undermines the wonderful whimsy of these machines – we urge you to give them a go and walk away with the giant cuddly toy if you can!
We know it’s not strictly an Asian casino game, or even really a table game, but we’ve decided to ignore your complaints and include it in the Asian Casino Table Games section anyway. Why? Because whilst Baccarat is far from unpopular in Australia and in casinos throughout Europe and the US, it seems to have found its spiritual home in Asia’s casino resorts. It’s just not the game of the moment in the West – even James Bond seems to have changed his allegiance to Poker in the most recent Bond films – but in Asia and especially in Macau, Baccarat is the real deal. Walk into The Venetian, City of Dreams or any of Macau’s other incredible casinos, and you’ll immediately be struck by the availability and popularity of Baccarat. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really – this is a casino game with some serious pedigree behind it, and it comes with all the historic glamour of Monte Carlo, too. Not to mention the fact that it’s a great game to play – a timeless casino experience. And in Asia, all that seems to add up to one of the most popular games on offer in casino resorts, even in spite of some serious competition.
Casino Resorts On Your Doorstep
So there you have a little taste of the delights that are on offer at the excellent casino resorts dotted around the Pacific Rim. It’s been an intensely competitive market for casino resorts over the past few years, especially in the light of the economic downturn, but that just means that the casinos that have survived are a cut above. And they haven’t just survived, but thrived, here in Australia and all around Asia. And whilst it’s easy to stay at home and enjoy all the good things that are waiting for you at Crown Melbourne, The Star or any of Australia’s other casino gems, we can’t recommend enough that you take a trip to Singapore, Macau or any number of alluring holiday destinations with relatively easy reach of Australia. And it just so happens that you’ll get the chance to experience some of the best casino resorts in the world at the same time, with plenty of seats at arguably the best table games in the world...