Chinese casino customers in Macao display important subcultural differences across aÂ range of behaviours.
In a published research article, Dr Samuel Seongseop Kim of theÂ School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong PolytechnicÂ University and his co-authors discuss the observations of long-time casino staffÂ members in Macao who described variation between gamblers from mainland China,Â Hong Kong and Taiwan.
By understanding these differences and becoming familiarÂ with the profiles of the three groups of gamblers, â€śthe managers of Macaoâ€™s casinos canÂ improve the quality of service offered to these guestsâ€ť, argue the researchers.
Gaming has been integral to Macaoâ€™s economy since its early days as a PortugueseÂ colony, the researchers note. Today it accounts for 50% of gross domestic product, 14%Â of total employment and 80% of government revenue. The gaming sector has grownÂ enormously since the handover of sovereignty to China in 1999, now far outstrippingÂ even Las Vegas in terms of annual revenues.
Although the mainland is clearly an important source market, given that Macao is theÂ only part of the country in which gambling is permitted, other Chinese cultures alsoÂ provide significant numbers of gamblers to Macao.
The researchers observe thatÂ although just over half of the gamblers in the city are from mainland China, a little overÂ a quarter are from Hong Kong and around four per cent are from Taiwan. â€śDespite theÂ many commonalities of Chinese subculturesâ€ť, they write, â€śit would be unrealistic toÂ assume that any group comprising 1.6 billion people would have completelyÂ homogeneous attitudes or behaviourâ€ť.
Yet they also note that â€śdissimilarities among members of a group are often overlookedÂ through oversimplifying or overgeneralising the overall cultureâ€ť. Chinese are generallyÂ considered to have a firm grounding in Confucian teachings that emphasise norms,Â group obligations and harmony, solidarity and respect for authority, and they are usuallyÂ thought to avoid uncertainty while being strongly collectivistic and displaying facesavingÂ behaviour.
The researchers wanted to determine whether mainland Chinese,Â Hong Kongers and Taiwanese, who â€śhave lived through different pastsâ€ť and live within very different political systems, carry these similarities to or display behaviouralÂ differences on the gaming floor.
Having consulted senior casino staff and experts, the researchers conducted face-to-faceÂ interviews to survey more than 300 dealers and pit managers or supervisors from all 33Â of Macaoâ€™s casinos.
The staff members interviewed were predominantly Chinese inÂ ethnicity (81.3%), with Portuguese (11.7%) and Malaysians (6%) the next two largestÂ groups. Most were men aged over 25, and just over a third held university degrees. Most ad worked for casinos for three to six years, although nearly a quarter had tenures ofÂ six to eight years.
The staff members were asked about their perceptions of only those customers they feltÂ certain came from a particular locale. The researchers note that although mainlandÂ Chinese, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese, â€śare similar in appearanceâ€ť, the staff membersÂ were â€śable to recognise customers well because of their daily interactions and years ofÂ working in a casinoâ€ť.
Their responses allowed the researchers to categorise casinoÂ customers according to whether they participated passively and the extent to which theyÂ displayed untidy/disruptive, generous, complaining / active, game-focused, chip/moneyholdingÂ and cautious behaviour.
The researchers found differences between the three groups in six of these seven areas.Â
Only in terms of betting behaviour were the three groups similar, such as in the wayÂ they confirmed the number of chips that the dealer had paid. The remaining differences,Â the researchers write, confirm that â€śnot all Chinese behave in the same wayâ€ť.Â
For instance, the staff members perceived the mainland Chinese to be the least tidy andÂ most disruptive of the three groups, whereas they perceived Hong Kongers moreÂ positively in both regards. However, there was widespread agreement that Hong KongÂ gamblers were the most likely to complain and ask for favours or promotional items,Â although they were also the most likely to follow the dealerâ€™s guidance.Â
Hong Kongers reportedly enjoyed the challenge of new games, whereas mainlandÂ Chinese preferred to avoid novelty at the gaming table unless they received detailedÂ explanations. Taiwanese customers were viewed as the most passive and most likely toÂ play games alone. Finally, although none of the groups were â€śfree with their cashâ€ť,Â Taiwanese customers were thought to be slightly better tippers.Â
These observations, write the researchers, highlight the dangers of overgeneralisingÂ cultures and importance of avoiding stereotypes. Yet there is also one worrying trendÂ that suggests a particularly resistant stereotype at work among the staff membersÂ themselves. â€śWe were concernedâ€ť, comment the researchers, â€śabout what can only beÂ called the staffâ€™s negative perceptions of mainland Chinese, given that they are Macaoâ€™sÂ casinosâ€™ number one customer segment.â€ť
They suggest that cultural sensitivity trainingÂ for staff and clearly posted guidelines and rules for customers could help to rectify theÂ situation. After all, they state, given mainlandersâ€™ clear desire â€śto be part of a group, itÂ makes sense to set expectations for how to behave in a casinoâ€ť.Â
Based on the intracultural differences they identified, the researchers developed distinctÂ profiles of the three groups of Chinese gamblers that will be very useful to Macaoâ€™sÂ casino operators.
First, Hong Kongers can best be described as â€śfocused gamblersâ€ť whoÂ enjoy playing new games, exhibit a peak-and-valley betting pattern, enjoy playing inÂ tidy surroundings, and expect good service and will probably complain in its absence.Â The researchers recommend promotional offers and special new game training sessionsÂ for this group.
Mainland Chinese gamblers are â€śsociableâ€ť, suggest the researchers. They likeÂ â€śgathering together in groups, observing others play, playing a game together, andÂ enjoying having a smoke togetherâ€ť. Although often suspicious of unfamiliar games,Â lots 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 toÂ overturn mainland Chinese patronsâ€™ overwhelming preference for traditional tableÂ games, the researchers suggest.Â
In contrast to the mainland Chinese profile, Taiwanese gamblers are â€śpassive and game focusedÂ gamblersâ€ť in the researchersâ€™ classification. They are the most likely to playÂ alone and, although they spend less than the other two groups, are perceived as valuableÂ customers because â€śthey are relatively easier to serve, create less trouble, and tip moreâ€ť.Â
The researchers recommend that casinos implement more focused marketing efforts to
expand their share of this customer group.Â
Although they focused on particular subcultural groups of gamblers, the researchersÂ suggest that their findings also have more general implications. They demonstrate thatÂ tourism marketers should â€śtake into account not only a touristâ€™s place of origin but alsoÂ their socioeconomic, education, ideological and political backgroundâ€ť.
Each culture, inÂ short, has much difference inside it. Moving out from Macao onto the global stage, â€śanÂ understanding of subcultural differences will help casino and hospitality operatorsÂ generally understand their customersâ€™ behaviour, design efficient marketing strategiesÂ and meet the needs of distinct cultural groupsâ€ť. With greater understanding will alwaysÂ come an improved bottom line.Â
Wan, Penny Yim King, Kim, Samuel Seongseop and Elliot, Statia. (2013). Behavioral
Differences in Gaming Patterns among Chinese Subcultures as Perceived by Macao Casino
Staff. Cornell Hospital Quarterly, 54(4), 358-369.
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