Where gambling cheats go to buy their gadgets
Fox Yi Hu and Chloe Lai
Gambling is such a popular pastime in the Pearl River Delta that shops selling casino equipment and various punting aids have opened up on some of Guangzhou's busiest streets.
Goods for sale include baccarat tables, slot machines, chips, marked cards, 'X-ray' spectacles, 'magic' dice and software for creating online casinos.
'We have everything you can use in gambling,' one shopkeeper said. 'It's important that they help you win.'
Part of Huanshi West Road, near Guangzhou Railway Station, looks like a dream destination for poker machine players, card sharps and baccarat cheats, featuring 10 such shops in a wing of Tianma Mansion, alongside convenience stores.
They are less than 50 metres away from a police station - the Yuexiu district plain-clothes investigation department.
Guangzhou police have been cracking down on illegal gambling. An officer familiar with the crackdown said gambling dens and small underground casinos had flourished in delta cities such as Guangzhou, Foshan and Dongguan, especially since the central government tightened the curbs on mainlanders visiting Macau.
Equipment for casino-style baccarat games is for sale in several shops named Qiansheng ('always win') Entertainment, all controlled by a businessman known as Fat Boy.
A shopkeeper of one of the Qiansheng shops, who called himself Tall Man, said a set of baccarat equipment, including tables, marked cards, chips, closed-circuit television and a computer controlling what cards would be dealt out, cost 20,000 yuan (HK$22,700).
'The system allows you to deal out any card at will,' he said.
Baccarat tables are not on display because the shop only measures about eight square metres, but goods such as cards, chips, mahjong sets, devices that purportedly help you swap cards and equipment that it is claimed interferes with slot machines and changes their scores are all on display.
In a shop named Bi Sheng ('must win') Entertainment, software for organising online soccer betting or baccarat gambling was on sale.
Shopkeeper Lai Yanting said that having the software installed on your own computer would cost 5,000 yuan. But he would not demonstrate the software unless a customer agreed to buy it after 'seeing its good effects'.
'This is our rule. You must pay after seeing that it works,' Lai said.
Several shops sell devices that look like car keys for cheating while playing slot machines. They purportedly change the scores in your favour, and cost 800 to 1,600 yuan.
An electronic device for secretly swapping cards in poker games was available in a shop named Tian Tian ('everyday') Entertainment.
A shopkeeper who gave his name as Chen said the device, the size of a thumb nail, cost 1,600 yuan.
He said it helped you change cards in your hand into whatever cards you wanted. He promised that it worked like magic, but he also declined to demonstrate it without an agreement it would be bought after 'seeing a good demonstration'.
Chen also sells 'X-ray' glasses, which have to be used with a liquid. People wearing such glasses can see the numbers and suits on cards to which the liquid has been applied.
A slot machine is displayed for sale in a shop on Zhanqian Road, just 10 metres from the police station.
The police officer said there were more than 50 such shops, with much of the gambling equipment coming from Houjie county, Dongguan.
Hu Xingdou, an economist and social commentator at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said demand for gambling was strong on the mainland, partially because of people's get-rich-quick mentality.
'It's hard to solve the problem of gambling merely by crackdowns, which will force gambling activities to go underground,' the professor said.
He suggested the central government legalise gambling in limited areas, preferably poor regions in the west of the country.
'Legalisation may help regulate gambling activities,' he said. 'With legal casinos, low-income regions may be able to attract more investment and better develop their tourism, based on the experience of Las Vegas.'
Guangdong began a crackdown on illegal gambling in January
The number of underground casinos smashed in Foshan alone was: 105