This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of WGM.
The recently renovated Jai Alai casino has delved deep into Macau’s history to bring back the unique “hanging basket” game that was once a favorite of the city’s VIP players.
It’s 09:00 on a Friday morning and although Jai Alai – the most recent Macau casino to re-open after extensive renovations – is quiet, one table is bursting with the
energy of 35 enthusiastic players. The game in question is Fantan and at Jai Alai, this
long and proud tradition has been rekindled with a unique twist – referred to on signage, in Chinese only, as the “hanging basket” game.
For those unfamiliar with Fantan, its name is derived from the words “Fan”, which means to turn over, and “Tan” which means to spread out. Players bet on a number between one and four or any combination of them, with winning bets determined by the number of buttons or beads remaining after the dealer has separated them into groups of four.
The dealer starts the process by placing a metal bowl, known as “tan koi”, over a portion of the button pile to separate them. Once bets are placed, the dealer removes the bowl and uses a bamboo stick to group the revealed buttons into fours. Eventually, a nal group will remain containing either one, two, three or four buttons which becomes the winning number.
Fantan’s history in China dates back more than 2,000 years and as recently as the 1960s it remained the dominant game of chance played in Macau’s gambling parlors and early casinos.
Among those were Casino Kampek and Casino Macau Palace, whose claim to fame was the “hanging basket” game whereby players would be split between two levels of the gaming floor. On the lower level sat the common man, who would take a seat directly at the table itself to place his bets as usual. The upper level housed the casino’s VIPs, who would sit around a large hollow that peered down to the gaming table below. Rather than place their bets directly at the table, they would instead tell the VIP dealer which numbers they wished to bet on, who would then lower their chips to the dealer below via a small basket. This became known as the “hanging basket” game.
Although segmentation of player classes no longer takes place, Jai Alai has rekindled the basket tradition with two Fantan tables now front and center on the main gaming oor and two oval hollows directly above, allowing players to take a seat on the upper level and remember the days of old.
“For some of our older customers it brings back some great memories from the past when they used to play the basket game and for others it’s just a fun novelty,” explains property Vice President Marco Ieong.
Jai Alai has actually modelled its whole interior design concept on Casino Macau Palace, with classic wooden nishes providing a classy, relaxing vibe that does indeed evoke images of a Macau long past.
As for the players, it seems the “hanging basket” game is very much back in vogue!