Most people associate Chinese New Year with spending time with family, visiting relatives and catching up with close friends. But every year, part of the fun occurs when these normal home gatherings get transformed into make-shift casinos!
Gambling is deeply ingrained in Hong Kong society and legal in several forms. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which has branches all over the city, processes bets on horse racing and soccer, as well as runs a popular lottery called the Mark Six.
Gambling during Chinese New Year isn’t as much about winning or losing as it is a social activity. The stakes can be extremely low (even less than $1 HKD.) Being part of the action allows you to joke around with your friends and have a group experience, as some games are played against a banker.
Aside from mahjong, which makes an appearance at gatherings all year round, a few other games are played especially during Chinese New Year.
Fish Shrimp Crab
I wish this game was played all year round!
On a paper mat you have six images: coins, crab, rooster, fish, shrimp, and calabash (a bottle-shaped gourd). Instead of numbers, the dice also feature these six images.
The gamblers place money on each item they think will correspond to the rolled dice.[photopress:Chinese_New_Year_gambling_H.jpg,full,pp_image]
The dealer shakes three dice in a bowl before opening up to reveal the outcome.[photopress:Hong_Kong_Chinese_New_Year__1.jpg,full,pp_image]
If one of the dice is a shrimp, people who placed money on a shrimp will win, similarly if you bet on the fish and the die is a fish you win. If there were two shrimp dice rolled, the amount paid would be double, and so forth. Fish Shrimp Crab is kid-friendly and totally addictive!
Big and Small aka High Low
Sometimes printed on the reverse side of the Fish Shrimp Crab piece of paper, is another game called Big and Small. This game uses three normal, six-sided dice. There are many combinations of numbers printed on the paper that match the potential outcome of the dice.
You need to place bets on either the total amount of the dice or the individual numbers of the dice rolled. For example, if a 6, 2, and 5 were rolled, they would yield a total of 13, and anyone betting the total of the dice correctly would win, Similarly placing money on whether the amount is greater than 11, or contained a 6, 2, or 5 would win. The odds printed on the paper are different, with the highest pay-out on unlikely outcomes, such as guessing that the three dice will be 1, 1, 1 etc.
Gambling during Chinese New Year it’s said that you can win “lucky money”. Playing Fish Shrimp Crab and Big and Small with friends I quit while I was ahead. My winnings? $1 HKD!