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How Asian Culture Has Influenced the Slot-Machine Industry

Slot machines have been around for a long time, but in recent years, the industry has experienced a major shift especially in theme and design. The game we once knew as an American invention is quickly transforming into something much more diverse and dynamic, with the Asian culture playing a large role.

Asian culture has influenced slot machine design in many ways: from the symbols used to create them, to their various themes, like Chinese New Year or anime characters.

Gambling is a global phenomenon, and as such, it has been adapted to suit the tastes of different cultures. It’s not just in the Western world that we find casinos with slot machines. For example, Las Vegas hosts one of the largest collections of Asian-themed slots found anywhere in the world.

The Asian influence on slot machines is evident not just in their design and development, but also in the games themselves. Let’s dig deeper and see some of these reasons:

The Numbers!

When we look at the cause of the rapid rise of Asian-based/inspired slots, one thing is evident, and this is Tourism!

While the UK's appreciation for the United States as a vacation destination is second only to Japan's, Japan is fonder of the USA than the UK. Nearly seven million Japanese travellers visited various destinations in the US in 2018. Among these destinations is Las Vegas, New York City, San Francisco, and Atlantic City.

One important reason for such is because casinos are not allowed in Japan. The pachinko parlours and a lot of other forms of moderate gambling can certainly be found in Japan, but it cannot hold a candle to the glitter and glamour and abundance of gambling options available in American resort casinos!

With approximately six million Chinese people visiting the US in 2018, China ranks third (only behind Japan) in U.S. tourism. All gambling, except for the state-run National Lottery, is outlawed in China. Like many other gamblers around the world, the Chinese love to gamble and since this is not possible on their land, they have to look for options outside, and this is where tourism comes into play.

In fact, it is believed that Chinese tourism to the US increased by about 600% between 2008 and 2016.

According to the above data, approximately one-third of all international tourism in the United States originates from countries within the Asian region.

30 years ago, playing a slot machine game based on a Japanese anime series or a Chinese dice game could have appeared weird. However, today that is very normal and widely accepted, and especially for those in destination cities where you find a third of the visitors speaking Japanese, Mandarin, or one of the many Indian dialects.

The Freshness!

Every slot player has a favourite or a few favourite "machines" that they tend to play on a regular basis, whether it's once a week, or after three months during a weekend road trip to Atlantic City, or once a day at a favourite casino in Las Vegas, Tunica, or Reno, for example. This is no different with players who prefer online casinos.

Even the most interesting machine, however, can become stale and boring after a while. You've memorized the paytable for this game. You could probably find the PLAY button even if you were blindfolded. All of the cocktail waitresses are familiar to you by name. On your way to work in the morning, you catch yourself humming the theme music from your favourite slot machine!

Well, there is an adage that says “Familiarity breeds contempt”, and this is very true when it comes to casino gaming.

This boredom has driven many gamers into unfamiliar waters, and a majority are now seeking something fresher and more entertaining and may have found the Asian-themed titles great to work with.

Why not try your luck at one of those bizarre slot machines with reels adorned with Chinese ideographs with plenty of images resembling dragons, rice bowls, chubby babies, or even roosters!

And talking of the rooster, it is one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, and it represents good fortune, honesty, and protection among other things. Because China is to its sphere of influence in Asia what the United States is to its own sphere of influence in the West, the rooster is widely regarded as a symbol of good fortune throughout the region.

Additionally, in China, the dragon is regarded as a symbol of strength and good fortune, while in Japan, its regarded as a symbol of success and good fortune. The dragon is revered in both India and Korea, where it is regarded as powerful, benevolent, and as a source of luck.

Again, rather than being exciting or boisterous, the theme music is often quite soothing, which is a welcome change from the Nickelodeon-calliope outbursts that we are accustomed to hearing from the usual slots.

Additionally, the images are usually distinct from the cartoonish depictions of miners, zombies, outlaws, and other festive images that are commonly seen.

The Reel Deal!

Human beings remain the same, no matter where they are in the world. People from all cultures are surprised by this seemingly predictable observation when they first visit a country that is different from their own culture.

Sure enough, different cultures have varying perspectives on the same things and actions, but you will still find a few ideas that are consistent across all cultures.

Cherry symbols appear on Japanese-themed slot machines, for example. However, the cherries, which are a traditional symbol of the slot machine, are transformed into sakura blossoms (cherry blossom). Throughout all of the Asian-themed slots, dragons are frequently used as multipliers or scatter symbols.

Everyone has heard the adage that in Japan, slurping one's tea is considered a compliment to the person serving it.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of slots games available with themes based on Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Korean culture and traditions. Some, such as the Bruce Lee slot machine, are a subtle nod to Western gamblers, while others, such as the Dragon Emperor slot machine, appear to be entirely devoted to Asian gamblers.

And the good thing is that you don’t have to be fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese to gamble (and win) on these machines. However, the absence of the symbols that Westerners are accustomed to seeing on slot machines can be confusing at first, especially for newcomers. Still, they are not a complex thing to learn and even if it’s a new thing to you, you will quickly grasp it.

China-Themed Slots

BetSoft's Fa Fa Twins slot features identical-twin toddlers as its main symbol. I don't know what the huge-eyed Chinese identical twins have to do with winning or gambling on slot machines, but as long as BetSoft appears to know what it's doing, then everything is all right. It's one of the most popular games of all time by the way.

In addition to traditional Western slots, one unique feature of the Fa Fa Twins is one I have not seen utilized by other developers. This is the “double-up”, and if you decide to work with it as you place your bets, you have a better chance of boosting your winnings.

Just as “fa” means “hair” in Mandarin, it also means “facia” in the ideogram, which is another word for “to become wealthy.” 

Toddlers and babies are a lot more common in Chinese-themed slot machines. Another great example is Fu Dao Le ( Good Fortune Has Arrived) from Ball Technologies.

Its available on both land-based as well as online casinos. On it are two Chinese babies who are riding a fish (seen as a symbol of plenty), while holding some golden rice bowls (also a symbol of plenty).

What draws more attention is the fact that the developer has not used the number seven, but the number eight is in plenty.

Eight has an almost special charm of good luck, just like the colour red is believed to. There are even Chinese-themed slots that have their maximum bet set at 88 coins. In fact, in China, 8 is considered the luckiest number.

Japanese-Themed Slots

Japanese-themed slots are unique because they are not based on Chinese culture. As opposed to the luck symbols that are common with Chinese slots, the Japanese-flavoured slot games offer things like geishas, fans, sakura, fans, sumo wrestlers, as well as samurai.

However, this also depends on whether the game is going for a cultural history type of theme.

There are modern Japanese themes that you're more likely to discover, including popular anime, and in some cases weird things like clothing lines.

A developer with such a slot is IGT's, and the slot is known as Tokidoki Lucky Town, or simply Tokidoki. The characters from the Tokidoki line of clothing and accessories are featured in this five-reel animated short. Even the music the reels make while spinning is cartoonish.

If you want to see traditional Japanese imagery like goldfish, cat masks, fans, geishas, and the like, the Matsuri slot from Play'n GO is the best bet.

India/Nepal Themed Slots

Are you a curry fan? The games in this collection have various themes related to India, like Microgaming's Cash n Curry slot. The game substitutes bowls of curry for other symbols on the reels. It has a “nudge and hold” feature, and it plays pretty fast.

If you want to learn about slots in a particular Asian country, then look no further than the Kathmandu slot machine from Microgaming. This game has Nepalese landmarks such as temples, elephants, and a map of Nepal as its bonus features. The scatter feature of this slot is represented by a prayer wheel.

Well, don’t mistake me! I haven't said that playing the Kathmandu slot game is a religious experience because I believe playing slot machines has nothing to do with religion.

Final Thoughts

Do you like the idea of slots, but want to try something different? Asian slots might be just what you’re looking for. You can find a variety of these games online and even on your mobile device!

The craze for Asian-themed slots is here to stay, and the best news is that you don't have to travel to places like Atlantic City or Las Vegas to enjoy them. You can do that from the comfort of your home using a smartphone.

Shawna Dudley

Shawna is an ambitious and free-spirited digital nomad with expertise in creating high-quality and SEO-friendly guides and reviews in the iGaming and travel industry. Follow her on Twitter or Linkedin or send her an email.