NIGHT WATCHMAN Kwan Kai-kwong is a remarkable man, a gambler who beat the odds to collect a total of $12.2 million in 1996. Most would consider themselves blessed to land just one big win in a lifetime, but the 62-year-old struck it lucky twice within a month by pulling off the holy grail of Hong Kong punters, the Triple Trio. And his good fortune is not restricted to the ponies - when Kwan visited Las Vegas in the same year, he won US$6,000 (HK$46,740) from a slot machine with his third spin. But Kwan's is a classic tale of easy come, easy go. The $4,800-a-month night watchman burned the bulk of his booty in just a few months. 'My happiness of winning the money was very short-lived,' he says now, wearing sandals and dusty jeans. Six years ago, he commanded the respect of his friends who called him 'Kwan Yeh' or Grandfather Kwan. He had $12.2 million in the bank, lived in a luxury Kwai Fong flat with his wife and three children, sported a Rolex watch and ate in restaurants every day. He tipped strangers $500 at a time, banknotes and gold credit cards bulged from his wallet. But his dream lifestyle was over almost as quickly as it arrived. Now he's back where he started, scraping a living as a guard on a Tsuen Wan public housing estate. He says he has only $50 to his name. He was back in the media spotlight recently when a judge ruled he had no right to the money his wife withdrew from their joint account and was entitled to only half of their Kwai Fong flat, which cannot be sold until all his children have turned 18. Home is now a one-bedroom, $1,200-a-month cubicle in Shamshuipo. Divorced by his wife, Wong Ho-kit, 52, he shares a kitchen and toilet with three other families and has only a few pieces of furniture and a copy watch in place of the Rolex. But he has unshakeable faith in his good fortune and ability to recoup the lost millions. Kwan may be down, but he's definitely not out. With short hair and heavy bags under his eyes, he says he is 'lucky when it comes to winning money'. A fortune teller told him he has a 'star sign' on his palm. This apparently means he has 'a sixth sense' which allows him to make the right betting decisions. Kwan's rags-to-riches-to-rags story is down to his spending philosophy. His theory is that if you earn money, you should spend it. 'Only when you're broke again will you be motivated to get more,' he says. His wife takes a different view. 'Once he gets his hands on it, he will spend it,' Wong says. 'His character is very special - he has no concept of money. He treats it like waste paper. Even when he was rich, he didn't buy clothes or good food, he just enjoyed the moments of spending it to show off.' Wong now lives in the couple's public housing flat in Kwai Fong with their son aged 12 and two daughters aged 17 and 14. Kwan did not learn compulsive spending as a poor child in Guangzhou. The son of a tailor who died young, he was sent to an orphanage at an early age. His wife believes his tendency to show off stems from the low self-esteem he suffered as a child. In 1962, Kwan illegally crossed the border to work in a factory in booming Hong Kong. Dreaming of wealth, he started to gamble. 'I thought I was poorly educated, my hand was disabled, I worked so hard but still I could only earn $6.50 a day,' Kwan says. 'To get rich, I had to gamble.' He gambled all his wages and when he got lucky spent it all at massage parlours and on dinner for his fellow workers. In 1984, he married Wong, a garment worker in the same factory. A former teacher from the mainland, Wong says she married him in the belief he was honest and hard-working. She claims she was in the dark about his compulsive gambling. On the day they registered their marriage, he took her to the racecourse and won $17,000. Days later, he won another $32,000. It seemed an auspicious start to their union, but life was anything but comfortable in their government flat in Kwai Fong. 'Every month, I had to ask him for housekeeping money and he would give me just $1,000,' Wong recalls. 'I had to borrow from my brothers to survive.' In 1989, Kwan started working as a night watchman in a Chinese restaurant, while Wong stayed at home to take care of the children. Kwan took food leftovers home to feed them. But their lives started to change for the better in April 1996 when Kwan shared in the Jockey Club's Triple Trio dividend. The wildly popular bet requires players to find the first three horses home in three designated races. Sounds easy? Well, it's not the world's best bet for nothing: if each race has a full contingent of 14 runners, there are close to 50 million possible permutations. Kwan wagered just $540 that day for a payout of $489,140. He handed $330,000 of the winnings over to his wife and put the rest in his Telebet account, but by the end of the month he'd lost all but $30,000 of the windfall. Just as the money was running out, he landed the big one. It was Saturday afternoon, May 4, and Kwan, who had bought a $3,000 Triple Trio ticket, was glued to the racing coverage on TV. He had the first two 'legs' of the bet up and was anxiously awaiting the result of the all-important final race. 'I got all my children out and asked them to get together to pray for a win,' he recalls. His pleas were heard, and when his wife returned home he announced: 'I have won the Triple Trio!' They called the Jockey Club and the $11,728,302 win was confirmed. Kwan wanted to cheer loudly but his wife stopped him, saying, 'Don't be so loud', and pointed to the door. She feared that if people heard about their fortune, they would hassle them to borrow money or kidnap their children. So there were no dramatic celebrations. Instead, the family had dinner, Kwan took a nap, then headed to work. Two days later, they deposited the cash into a joint account and the spending began. The pair forked out $2.9 million on a Kwai Fong flat, almost $400,000 on decorations, furniture and electrical appliances, $1 million on Thai investment funds and $95,000 on jewels - including matching Rolex watches and gold necklaces for their three children. There were also 'red packets' of more than $400,000 to family members including $100,000 to Wong's younger brother. And then there was the $95,000 holiday in the United States. A further $2 million for his 'personal use' and within two months, the balance had been whittled down to $4.8 million. By then, Wong had stopped spending, but for Kwan, it was just the beginning. His elder daughter, Omi Kwan, recalls: 'My father was crazy. He would give $100 to a waitress for pouring tea or changing his plate, and $500 to restaurant managers. When our tea cups were still full, the staff emptied our cups and gave us more to get tips.' Kwan says he wasn't the least bit excited. 'I was used to winning money by then,' he says. Soon Wong quit her job, but Kwan decided to keep working as a watchman. 'I didn't want people to know I won the Triple Trio, so I continued to work to hide my situation,' he says. A man of contradictions, his desire to show off meant it didn't stay secret for long. He told an old friend about his fortune. The man said he was in financial difficulties, so Kwan felt obliged to lend him $400,000. 'He had helped me in the past.' Later, even his work colleagues learned of his exploits. Kwan used to have few friends, but that quickly changed and he soon fell victim to any sponger with a sob story. 'Suddenly I had many friends . . . many wanted to get money from me,' he says. 'They followed me to the racecourse and asked me to pay for their bets. Some people borrowed money from me, $20,000 to $30,000 each. They all said they were desperate, some said their fathers had died and had no funeral money.' They soon realised Kwan was a soft touch. 'They all looked so pitiful, I didn't know if they lied, but I had money, so I lent it to them,' he says. He also gave $1 million to a friend for a business venture on the mainland and didn't even get a receipt. 'I trusted him,' Kwan says lamely. Money changed him. He started visiting prostitutes in Macau and the mainland, he admits. 'Two or three nights a week, he didn't return home at all,' Wong says. 'Once he told me he had affairs with four women. I was sad and almost wanted to jump out of the window.' At other times he humiliated his wife by phoning his mistress in front of her. 'On my mistress' birthday I bought her a diamond necklace for $9,700. One day I brought a briefcase with $260,000 cash for her, I spread the money across the bed and asked her to count it. She was very happy and just kept counting,' he says. Chinese believe 'wealth is like clouds', meaning it is transient, and the adage certainly held true for Kwan as he squandered it all in a few crazy months. He blames much of this on his wife, who - fearing he would waste it all - transferred $4.5 million from their joint account to her own accounts in batches, leaving a balance of just $200,000. Kwan discovered it when the bank statement arrived, and that's when their daily quarrels began. A year later in November 1997 they parted. Wong applied for a divorce and Kwan moved out. By then he had frittered away his $2 million 'personal money' and his business friend revealed their venture had failed and his $1 million was lost. 'After I had no money, my Shenzhen girlfriend rarely called me,' he says. 'I called my friends and they immediately said they had no money,' he says, adding that he later had to pawn his Rolex for half the original $40,000 just to survive. In late 1997, desperate and down, he sued his ex-wife to retrieve the money she had withdrawn. But Wong's $4.5 million was no longer there. Between 1997 and last year, with no job and no housekeeping money from Kwan, Wong says she used $3 million, including $1.4 million on household expenses, $420,000 on saving insurance, $400,000 on lawyers' fees and $500,000 on decorations and other loss-making investments. Now only $1.5 million remains in her bank account and the court has ruled it be used for living expenses for Wong and their children. Kwan says he will appeal the ruling. He says he has no regrets despite it splitting up his family, and he insists he is happier now than before the win. Kwan is not ashamed to admit he still spends most of his wages on betting. But he maintains it is an investment to 'improve his living'. 'I don't need to worry about my children's education any more, she has the money so she can take care of them now,' he says. And he doesn't feel sorry for spending his winnings. 'Why should I feel sorry? I have full confidence that I will win over $1 million again, and not only once, but many times.'