Lunar New Year in Vegas: Unveiling Casino Traditions, Customs, & Luck!

Lunar New Year is actually one of the three largest annual events celebrated in Las Vegas. Lunar New Year is a holiday celebrated by many and follows the lunar calendar, which means it doesn’t start on the same day every year. This year, in 2024, it started on February 10th and will last for a little over two whole weeks.

The lunar calendar also follows a twelve year cycle with each year represented by a different animal. This year, we’re celebrating the year of the dragon—more specifically, the wood dragon. You could be the year of the dragon if you were born in 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, or 1952. If you want to know what animal you were born under, check out the website linked here:

Chinese Zodiac Calculator

Now, what does this have to do with Las Vegas and casinos? Well, people believe that the new year brings fresh new luck, so you can understand why even the most casual of gamblers will roll out to Vegas this time of year. And with two weeks of celebrations, that’s plenty of time to spend at the casinos.

Because it’s one of the three major holidays when people flood into Vegas, casinos like to make special accommodations for all the Lunar New Year guests. Like, the casinos will go all out with huge displays, red paper lanterns everywhere, and they’ll put on a large traditional ceremony with lion dancers, happy buddhas, musicians, and a 63-foot animated dragon parading through the casino lobby. The ceremony is meant to ward off evil spirits and bring in good fortune, a must for gamblers, you know? They’ll also have big banners hanging up with the expression, “gung hay fat choy” wishing people a Happy Lunar New Year.

On the floor itself, casinos will place citrus trees everywhere with red envelopes dangling from their branches. (I’ll talk more about these envelopes later!) And why citrus trees? Well, Mandarin oranges symbolize abundance and happiness, two very desirable virtues in a casino. People will exchange mandarin oranges during the Lunar New Year to wish them good fortune for the year ahead.

The restaurants will even get in on the festivities. During Lunar New Year, people eat fish to represent the Chinese saying of “nian nian yu yu”, meaning that you will have more than you need in the coming year, because the pronunciation of fish—“yu”—means ‘extra’ in Chinese.

Casinos really go all-out this time of year, it’s amazing. Normally, we don’t really allow players to put stuff on the table while they play, but during Lunar New Year, the casinos may let them put their good luck tokens or charms on the table, especially if they’re culturally significant. Some of them are feng shui coins, dragons, jin chan, koi fish, maneki-neko, laughing buddha, or jade.

FENG SHUI COINS - Feng Shui coins are beautiful, small, circular coins with a square hole in the middle. It’s believed that keeping feng shui coins on you can bring good luck, which obviously will help in a game of chance!

CHINESE DRAGON - No one’s putting real dragons on the table for obvious reasons—(they’re too big!)---but someone might have a small dragon trinket or figurine. Chinese dragons are portrayed as symbols of power, good fortune, and wealth.

JIN CHAN - Jin Chan, also known as Chan Chuy or the Money Toad, is a sculpture of a three-legged toad that is either sitting on a pile of coins or has a coin in its mouth. It’s meant to improve and protect your wealth, as well as ward off bad luck.

KOI FISH - Like the dragons, you won’t have live koi fish flopping on your table, but koi fish are said to be very lucky when you gamble because they symbolize good fortune, success, and prosperity.

MANEKI-NEKO - Maneki-Neko, or the Lucky or Beckoning Cat, is very popular across many countries in Asia, including China, as well as the rest of the world. It’s meant to attract good luck and fortune to the owner.

LAUGHING BUDDHA - The Laughing Buddha, or Budai, is a cheerful monk statue that’s meant to attract good luck and happiness, especially if you rub his belly.

JADE JEWELRY - Jewelry with jade in it is also popular because jade stone is believed to bring luck and good fortune.

At baccarat tables in particular, you’ll see some very specific practices. In the high-limit baccarat areas, the lion dancers will throw lettuce as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. And many baccarat players will shout the word ‘ding!’ in Mandarin when peeling cards to stop bad cards from appearing.

For Chinese gamblers, washing their hands during a session in the casino can change their luck, too. If they’re losing, according to this superstition, a good hand-washing can turn things around. If a player is winning, they avoid handwashing, since it could wash the good luck away!

Casinos have to keep in mind customs players might believe to be bad luck. Sometimes they made these mistakes in big ways. Like, in the 90s, MGM lost a lot of Asian customers because people refused to walk into the mouth of a lion since that was considered bad luck. I mean, look at this thing! I wouldn’t want to walk through it either.

Casinos also know not to use white envelopes, since white is only used for funerals. When a casino gives a player an envelope, it’s usually red. Red represents luck and fortune in Chinese culture, and during Lunar New Year, wearing red and decorating spaces with red brings happiness and fortune in the new year.

So remember when I mentioned the citrus trees with red envelopes? These are called “hóngbāo”, or lucky red envelopes. These red envelopes are considered to be an even more powerful symbol of good luck, happiness, wealth, and prosperity. In Chinese mythology, red envelopes represent the Eight Immortals that were disguised as coins and protected a child from a demon. These envelopes are specifically part of the traditions associated with the Lunar New Year. People fill them with money and give them to friends and family, and the amount of money depends on your relationship with the person. The closer you are, the more money you can expect! How cool is that?

Did you know that numbers are also very important in Chinese culture? The number 8–or “ba”--is a lucky number because it sounds like the word “fa” which means prosperity. The number 6 symbolizes smoothness of an event and success, and the number 9 means everlasting. Casinos know this, so they’ll often give their Chinese high-rollers hotel rooms with the numbers 8, 6, or 9.

And while 8 is the luckiest number, 4 is very unlucky. It sounds similar to the Chinese word for death. Not something you want when you’re gambling right? And because 4 is so unlucky, some hotels like the Mandalay Bay don’t have any of the 40th floors and the Wynn doesn’t have the 4th floor or any of the 40th floors either. Can you believe that? So at the Wynn, the floors go from 39 to 50, all to make sure players have the luckiest time possible.

And if you want to have the luckiest time possible and become a better dealer, check out our website Vegas dash Aces dot com, where we have tons of free tools and information for dealers of all skill levels. I’ll put the link up in the corner and it’s down in the description.

As a dealer, it’s important to understand the cultural differences between you and your players regardless of who they are or where they’re from. But casinos are acutely aware and go through extra lengths during the Lunar New Year festivals to accommodate Asian gamblers’ superstitions and beliefs. One of these is that many Asian guests don’t want to be bothered by casino employees while gambling, so if you’re dealing, please be respectful to players who wish to be silent and not engage them in conversation.

And we’re dealers, right? We know better than most about gambling superstitions and luck. And for all you players watching this, you want the best chances to win big at the table. So here are four unlucky actions you should avoid during Lunar New Year:

The first is to never carry a book into the pit. And I mean, any book, including that page turner you can’t seem to put down. In Chinese, the word for “book” is very similar to the word for “lose” and that’s the last thing anyone wants to do in the table.

Second, do not touch a player’s shoulder or upper body. I mean, you should avoid doing this year-round, but at Lunar New Year, some players believe by touching them on the shoulder you’re sapping the good luck from them.

The third one is to never give someone a clock as a gift. I know, I know, everyone here likes to gift the people in their life with grandfather clocks at the holidays. But! I’m here to tell you to avoid it for just two weeks! And here’s why: the word for clock in Chinese is “zhong”, which is very similar to the phrase “song zhong”, or handling the funeral affairs of seniors, a very unlucky term for people still alive.

The last one is that many Chinese people take gambling very, very seriously. They care more about results than the process. They’re here to win. You’re thinking, so what? Isn’t everyone? Here’s the thing: Chinese gamblers often won’t drink alcohol while they play–even if it’s free!--because they believe it might lead to a loss of control over the game. They’ll normally choose non-alcoholic drinks like hot tea or water to enjoy while gambling.

To all our dealers and players, have a happy Lunar New Year! May the new year be prosperous and may luck be on your side.

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