Chinese casino customers in Macau display
important subcultural differences across a range of behaviours.
In a published research article, Dr Samuel
Seongseop Kim of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM)
at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and his co-authors discuss
the observations of long-time casino staff members in Macau who
described variation between gamblers from mainland China, Hong
Kong and Taiwan.
By understanding these differences and becoming
familiar with the profiles of the three groups of gamblers, “the
managers of Macau’s casinos can improve the quality of service
offered to these guests”, argue the researchers.
Gaming has been integral to Macau’s economy
since its early days as a Portuguese colony. Today it accounts for
50% of gross domestic product, 14% of total employment and 80% of
government revenue. The gaming sector has grown enormously since
the handover of sovereignty to China in 1999, now far outstripping
even Las Vegas in terms of annual revenues.
Although the mainland is clearly an important
source market, given that Macau is the only part of the country in
which gambling is permitted, other Chinese cultures also provide
significant numbers of gamblers to Macau. The researchers observe
that although just over half of the gamblers in the city are from
mainland China, a little over a quarter are from Hong Kong and
around 4% are from Taiwan.
“Despite the many commonalities of Chinese
subcultures”, they write, “it would be unrealistic to assume that
any group comprising 1.6 billion people would have completely
homogeneous attitudes or behaviour.”
Yet they also note that “dissimilarities among
members of a group are often overlooked through oversimplifying or
overgeneralising the overall culture”.
Chinese are generally considered to have a firm
grounding in Confucian teachings that emphasise norms, group
obligations and harmony, solidarity and respect for authority, and
they are usually thought to avoid uncertainty while being strongly
collectivistic and displaying face-saving behaviour.
The researchers wanted to determine whether
mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese, who “have lived
through different pasts” and live within very different political
systems, carry these similarities to or display behavioural
differences on the gaming floor.
Having consulted senior casino staff and
experts, the researchers conducted face-to-face interviews to
survey more than 300 dealers and pit managers or supervisors from
all 33 of Macau’s casinos. The staff members interviewed were
predominantly Chinese in ethnicity (81.3%), with Portuguese
(11.7%) and Malaysians (6%) the next two largest groups. Most were
men aged over 25, and just over a third held university degrees.
Most had worked for casinos for three to six years, although
nearly a quarter had tenures of six to eight years.
The staff members were asked about their
perceptions of only those customers they felt certain came from a
particular locale. The researchers note that although mainland
Chinese, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese, “are similar in appearance”,
the staff members were “able to recognise customers well because
of their daily interactions and years of working in a casino”.
Their responses allowed the researchers to categorise casino
customers according to whether they participated passively and the
extent to which they displayed untidy/disruptive, generous,
complaining/active, game-focused, chip/money-holding and cautious
The researchers found differences between the
three groups in six of these seven areas. Only in terms of betting
behaviour were the three groups similar, such as in the way they
confirmed the number of chips that the dealer had paid. The
remaining differences, the researchers write, confirm that “not
all Chinese behave in the same way”.
For instance, the staff members perceived the
mainland Chinese to be the least tidy and most disruptive of the
three groups, whereas they perceived Hong Kongers more positively
in both regards. However, there was widespread agreement that Hong
Kong gamblers were the most likely to complain and ask for favours
or promotional items, although they were also the most likely to
follow the dealer’s guidance.
Hong Kongers reportedly enjoyed the challenge of
new games, whereas mainland Chinese preferred to avoid novelty at
the gaming table unless they received detailed explanations.
Taiwanese customers were viewed as the most passive and most
likely to play games alone. Finally, although none of the groups
were “free with their cash”, Taiwanese customers were thought to
be slightly better tippers.
These observations, write the researchers,
highlight the dangers of overgeneralising cultures and importance
of avoiding stereotypes. Yet there is also one worrying trend that
suggests a particularly resistant stereotype at work among the
staff members themselves. “We were concerned”, comment the
researchers, “about what can only be called the staff’s negative
perceptions of mainland Chinese, given that they are Macau’s
casinos’ number one customer segment.” They suggest that cultural
sensitivity training for staff and clearly posted guidelines and
rules for customers could help to rectify the situation. After
all, they state, given mainlanders’ clear desire “to be part of a
group, it makes sense to set expectations for how to behave in a
Based on the intracultural differences they
identified, the researchers developed distinct profiles of the
three groups of Chinese gamblers that will be very useful to
Macau’s casino operators. First, Hong Kongers can best be
described as “focused gamblers” who enjoy playing new games,
exhibit a peak-and-valley betting pattern, enjoy playing in tidy
surroundings, and expect good service and will probably complain
in its absence. The researchers recommend promotional offers and
special new game training sessions for this group.
Mainland Chinese gamblers are “sociable”,
suggest the researchers. They like “gathering together in groups,
observing others play, playing a game together, and enjoying
having a smoke together”. Although often suspicious of unfamiliar
games, slots in particular, they do enjoy them once provided an
opportunity to learn the rules. Assigning more staff members to
the slot and electronic table games area could help to overturn
mainland Chinese patrons’ overwhelming preference for traditional
table games, the researchers suggest.
In contrast to the mainland Chinese profile,
Taiwanese gamblers are “passive and game-focused gamblers” in the
researchers’ classification. They are the most likely to play
alone and, although they spend less than the other two groups, are
perceived as valuable customers because “they are relatively
easier to serve, create less trouble, and tip more”. The
researchers recommend that casinos implement more focused
marketing efforts to expand their share of this customer group.
Although they focused on particular subcultural
groups of gamblers, the researchers suggest that their findings
also have more general implications. They demonstrate that tourism
marketers should “take into account not only a tourist’s place of
origin but also their socioeconomic, education, ideological and
political background”. Each culture, in short, has much difference
inside it. Moving out from Macau onto the global stage, “an
understanding of subcultural differences will help casino and
hospitality operators generally understand their customers’
behaviour, design efficient marketing strategies and meet the
needs of distinct cultural groups”.
With greater understanding will always come an
improved bottom line.
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