Friday, 11 May 2012

A Gambler with Values

I often go to Macau for business and tonight got to check out the new Sands Cotai Central.

It's a step up from Galaxy in that it's less gaudy, but not all the shops and the Sheraton have opened yet so there wasn't much window shopping to look at. Which was probably good for the wallet.

The God of Wealth at Sands Cotai Central
The highlight is probably the giant statue of the God of Wealth, standing in front of a giant fountain and garden. Superstitious gamblers probably make a visit to the deity in the hopes of winning big at the tables.

But I met one who didn't do so well.

On the ferry ride back to Hong Kong, I sat next to a well-to-do woman in her 50s who wore a large multiple diamond ring on her left hand with a Rolex on her wrist, and a tennis bracelet on her right. Her hands were manicured and she wore some makeup.

"Oh! What a horrible day. I lost HK$30,000 today," she complained to me.

I was shocked hearing that as that amount is a good chunk of my monthly salary and she gambled it away in one afternoon.

"And the other day I lost HK$20,000. I keep coming to gamble but keep losing." This woman said she'd been gambling for some 20 years, coming very regularly to Macau, so much so she notices other regulars.

"I've seen some couples gamble and then they get into fights over how much they gamble and lose and then divorce or don't come anymore... the problem with me is that I don't mind going by myself."

I asked her why she gambled even though she lost.

For her it was something to do and you never knew if you would win or lose that day.

"I would be happy if I won HK$5,000 or HK$6,000, but then the next day you might lose it all or more," she said. "But those mainland gamblers, they want to raise the stakes even higher so they can win more, but they can lose even more."

She said she was very lucky her husband didn't mind her gambling away her monthly allowance he gave her. Perhaps that explained why she wore expensive jewellery in case she had to pawn them to pay her debts.

Even though she lives in Yuen Long, it seems her husband did a profitable business in manufacturing construction machinery, a progression he made from working in a doll factory in the 1980s.

That's where she met him, in the factory where her job was to put the synthetic hair onto the dolls' heads.

"He made HK$9,000 then which was a good salary and I made HK$6,000 and together HK$15,000 was pretty good," she reminisced.

From there they saved and scrimped, bought a home, had two children who are now in their 20s.

She said she was lucky her children and husband weren't into gambling. She added since her children were working now, she taught them they should at least give HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 per month to her and her husband as "tea money" -- a symbolic token to thank them for raising them.

"If they make HK$10,000 a month, they should give at least HK$1,000 to me. If they make more money, say HK$30,000, then I don't expect them to give me more money because they need to save for their marriage or children.

"My son moved out and has a girlfriend so he asked if he could give me less 'tea money' because he had to pay rent and also treat his girlfriend when they went out," she recalled. "I said no, but if you and your girlfriend live with me you can save more money and I will cook two meals a day for you. But he wouldn't agree."

Periodically she wondered if I was bored listening to her, but I was too curious as to how this woman was motivated to gamble away her money almost everyday.

She even showed me text messages from her husband, saying he knew she was probably in Macau for the day and hoped she had a good day, while he had to go to China for business and would be back the next day.

"Of 100 men in Hong Kong, only 20 are decent," she said. "The bad ones are bad in that they cheat. When they have a mistress then there's emotions there. I tell my husband if he wants to cheat, he should make sure he does it with a different pretty girl every night so he doesn't get emotionally attached."

But she knows her husband isn't having an affair -- or two -- according to her hunch.

"Those girls just want money, or an apartment or a Hong Kong ID card. They really don't love the man," she said, which is probably true in may gold-digging cases.

So the strength of her and her husband's trust in each other has led to mutual respect all these years.

The ferry docked and we got up to leave. But I still couldn't get over her losing so much money in a couple of hours.

Since she had such a bad track record this month, she said she wouldn't go back again until June.

Will she, or won't she?

Only the God of Wealth would know.

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