The Quasi-Legitimate 'Third Place': A Qualitative Investigation into the Culture and Context of Gambling Houses in Hong Kong.


  • Paul Vinod Khiatani Upper Iowa University (HK Campus), Hong Kong
  • Kelvin Yick
  • Chine Yan Chan
  • Tiffany Hing Mui Tse
  • Chi Chuen Chan


The qualitative study aimed to understand how the context and culture of quasi-legitimate gambling houses in Hong Kong relate to common actions and practices of individuals who actively gamble in gambling houses. The study interviewed fifteen participants (n=15) who frequented local gambling houses for at least one year - to gamble, work, or both gamble and work in the gambling house.
Results indicated that the culture and context of gambling houses are unique and distinct from the more formal gambling venues of casinos. The gambling house served as a ‘third place’ for these gamblers; providing space to socialize, 'loosen up' and escape, earn material/immaterial rewards, feel 'at home’, and more. Participants voiced feeling a sense of belonging and membership to these gambling houses and felt ‘at home’, despite being confined to a congested and intense space socially controlled by Asian criminal enterprises (the Chinese triad). Moreover, a majority of participants reported the convenience factor, e.g. borrowing money from loan sharks situated within the house to fund their gambling habits, as being a key contributor towards the appeal of gambling houses. Other contributing factors included personalized treatment, opportunity to socialize and build new connections, range of games available, affordability, and opportunity to gain recognition. In a context and culture which promotes the indulgence of gambling, the pattern of gambling behaviors and cognitions in the gambling house were found to be similar for all of the recruited participants.