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Dude, Don’t Harsh My Feng Shui

by Steven Novella, Jun 08 2009

A Taiwanese man, after losing 2 million dollars to a Vegas casino, is demanding his money back because, he claims, the casino deliberately gave him bad feng shui. Yes, that is the kind of world we are living in.

Yuan was happy with his Feng Shui when we was winning $400,000, but then his luck turned and eventually he lost his winnings plus 2 million more. Now it is reported:

…the Venetian dug a one-metre (40-inch) square hole on the wall of the presidential suite he was staying in April last year and covered it with a black cloth, said Apple Daily.

The casino also put two white towels in front of Yuan’s suite and turned on two large fans facing his room without notifying him, it said.

Those bastards!

I wonder why Yuan continued gambling even after he noticed this alleged Feng Shui sabotage. He must have noticed it’s dark effect long before he racked up 2 million dollars in debt to the Venetian. I guess 1 million dollars wasn’t enough to convince him that the dark arts were being employed.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art of using decorating – the arrangement of objects and furniture – to align one’s physical space with nature. The most benign interpretation of Feng Shui is purely aesthetic – essentially it is better to surround oneself with beauty than ugliness. However, many use Feng Shui as a form of magic, to actually control the flow of mystical forces (such as luck, health, and fortune).  Clearly it is this latter form than Yuan believes has been used against him.

Of course, the notion that having white towels placed outside one’s hotel room could actually affect the roll of the dice at a craps table is pure magical thinking – childish and primitive. I do wonder, however, if the casino did in fact arrange for bad feng shui for it’s high rollers. We shouldn’t assume that they didn’t, and I could not find any denial or statement by the casino. I would not assume that casino owners were beyong believing in feng shui, or wanting to tip the odds in their favor “just in case”.

This, of course, would not justify letting Yuan off of his 2 million dollar debt to the casino (that’s right, he left Nevada while still owing the casino 2 million bucks).  The Venetian has offered to refund Yuan 100,000 dollars in cash and another 100,000 in chips, without offering any explanation or admission. This seems like typical casino PR – anything to get high rollers who can stand to lose millions of dollars back in the doors.

I further wonder if casino’s will in the future make assurances to customers that no feng shui is being used to adversely affect their luck. Positive feng shui may even be used as a marketing strategy. I seriously doubt any casino will defend themselves by pointing out that feng shui is primitive magic with no basis in reality. Casino’s thrive on the notion of luck, and they would never dare attack their patron saint – lady luck.

Casinos want their customers to believe in magic. They want them to think that they can use the magic of “luck” to beat the odds. What they absolutely abhor is critical thinking, which leads innevitably to the conclusion that gambling beyond one’s means or in the hopes of actually making money is a fool’s endeavor. Gambling for entertainment is different, in my opinion, as long as you think the entertainment value is worth the money you are putting in jeopardy.

Casino’s don’t want just “entertainment gambling” – they want people to gamble more than they really can afford because they harbor a magical belief that their luck will defy the odds.

In my opinion Yuan is an ass and a welcher who should be made to pay his gambling debts. However, it is a strange form of justice that a casino is being bitten by the same kind of magical thinking upon which the industry is largely based.

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31 Responses to “Dude, Don’t Harsh My Feng Shui”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Feng sue! Feng sue!

    I can’t imagine the casino is too worried.

  2. Deen says:

    The first thing I thought while reading this was, “so what?” I don’t see at all why the guy thinks he could sue, even if Feng Shui did exist, and was actively used. How is that different from all the other ways that casinos already do that? Think of the ’0′ fields on the roulette wheel, and all the other gambling rules that favor the house. Or the fact that casinos often serve free alcoholic drinks to lower your guard.

    But the concept of a casino actively using its clients’ superstitions against them, to influence their play, is intriguing. I’m not sure what the moral or ethical implications of that would be. I doubt you could legislate against it, though.

  3. Max says:

    Positive feng shui may even be used as a marketing strategy.

    http://www.gamblingonlinemagazine.com/general-interest.php?articleID=205
    “Australia’s $1.6 billion Crown Casino consulted three Feng Shui experts when designing the hotel tower, and the casino’s internal layout.”

    Bellagio Conservatory
    http://www.vegas.com/attractions/on_the_strip/bellagioconservatory.html
    “During the Chinese New Year show, for instance, Feng Shui experts are brought in to make sure the energy in the room is just right. This includes analyzing the flow of the water and the direction the animal props are facing.”

  4. Rob says:

    I feel like I should be surprised by this new story, but I am strangely not. Feng shui seems to be one of the most widely accepted forms of woo around these days. Thankfully, that seems to be due to the fact that most people misunderstand what feng shui really is an just consider it a philosophy of aesthetics (as mentioned in the article), which is entirely reasonable as you will be happier being surrounded by beauty than ugliness.

    This really brings into stark contrast the garbage that millions are unwittingly subscribing to. It really blows my mind that in the 21st century, 40 years after putting a man on the moon, 150 years after On The Origin of Species, after having mapped the human genome and cosmos, that people can still put the universe in such a small box that they would believe that it cares how we organize our furniture.

    Even if feng shui were a real, provable science, I can’t see how this guy could win. The casinos already use many scientific, mathematical, and REAL methods to stack the odds against you, and all are entirely legal. It is well understood that casinos are in the business of making money and that gambling is done strictly at your own risk. They give you free booze, pump in extra oxygen, block out natural light, and remove all of the clocks to separate you from reality and keep you up all night gambling. They stack all of the odds in the games against you. Even if feng shui weren’t superstitious bull, then I can’t see what legitimate complaint anyone could have with it being used against them in the casino… and the fact that it is superstitious bull makes this case all the more foolish.

  5. Michael E says:

    “pump in extra oxygen”?

    An urban legend. See http://www.snopes.com/luck/casino.asp

    If this were true, and the oxygen concentration were raised enough to have a physiological effect, it would create an extreme fire hazard. A lit cigarette would burn up in seconds.

  6. catgirl says:

    Essentially, this guy is complaining that he tried to cheat and failed at it, both because the casino inadvertently ruined his cheating scheme, and because it wouldn’t work anyway. The point of casinos is take your money and make a profit. Most people will lose money but have some fun doing it. It’s basically trading your money for entertainment.

  7. Bill says:

    Feng shui. Heh.

    When I was working my way through college, I worked as a bookseller for one of the big national book chains. When I first started there, we used to carry several books in both the business and self-help sections on organizing your office and home, all written from the standpoint of “organization will make you more efficient, less frustrated and happier”.

    When the feng shui craze hit hard, the publishers all re-titled and re-packaged these books. The practical portion of the content (in terms of organization strategies, etc) was nearly identical to the previous editions, but now they were all feng shui guides. Efficiency and happiness were still the goal, but now through the “improved energy flow” afforded by feng shui rather than just being able to find things more quickly and easily.

    Does feng shui work? Ha.

    But what it DID do was greatly improve the flow of money into our cash registers – the “feng shui’d” re-packaging of these books sold much better than the prior editions.

  8. Rob says:

    @Michael E — Oops, that was my bad, thank you for pointing that one out for me. I also reread the article and looked at the meat of his charges –

    ” …the Venetian dug a one-metre (40-inch) square hole on the wall of the presidential suite he was staying in April last year and covered it with a black cloth, said Apple Daily.

    The casino also put two white towels in front of Yuan’s suite and turned on two large fans facing his room without notifying him, it said.”

    I am not sure by the reading of this article, but it seems to suggest that the hole in the wall was there before he came in — which would be interesting that the bad feng shui wouldn’t kick in until after his winning streak.

    Then housekeeping comes and gives him fresh towels.

    Oh, and he needs to be notified when the hotel is going to be turning on the fans to provide proper ventilation and air quality.

    What?

  9. BillDarryl says:

    I do wonder, however, if the casino did in fact arrange for bad feng shui for its high rollers.

    I totally wouldn’t put it past the casino owners to think, “hey, this guy’s winning, he’s really superstitious, what can we do subtlely to throw him off his game?”

    I kind of would like to see this go to trial. Wouldn’t the onus be on Yuan to first prove that Feng Shui works? And when he can’t, we have another win for the skeptics in the courts!

  10. Max says:

    Hey, do they use qi-meters? I’m seeing a market opportunity here.

  11. Brian says:

    “Qi-meters”. Wow. The possibilities are mind-boggling.

  12. Zed says:

    If this works I am going to sue my local gas station. It is there fault that I haven’t won the Powerball yet. Maybe the Slim Jims and the slushy machine are not aligned according to feng shui.

  13. Paul B says:

    I’ve always wondered – if supernatural phenomena were real – why astrologers, fortune tellers and psychics aren’t banned from casinos.

    Do you think I’d be hounded out of Vegas if I produced a crystal ball at the roulette table?

    • BillDarryl says:

      That would be awesome!

      Awesomer? Belly up to a table. Before the next bet, silently produce the crystal ball, gaze into it intensely, then put all your money on one number.

      Then watch how many others at the table follow suit.

      • Bill says:

        > Then watch how many others at the table follow suit.

        I really wish you wouldn’t make me laugh this hard at work. People are looking at me funny.

  14. CybrgnX says:

    Never!!! under estimate the power of human stupidity.

    If they can legislate against blasphemy they can do so against anything!!!! Even the use of Flung Shwit.

  15. joven says:

    Hes just trying to get the debt paid in no time.
    Prove feng shui, JREF million + nobel prize million = 2 million.
    Then he gets the 200,000 refunded and blingo, he’s still coming out ahead.

  16. Bram says:

    “You gotta give me a do-over, my cheating unit malfunctioned!”
    “I’m sorry sir the house-limit is three do-overs”

    :D.

  17. Michael Kingsford Gray says:

    Feng Shui is totally BOGUS.
    Is there a BFSA** around to sue me in English courts?
    If not, why not?
    $1m fine? How about ‘double or nothing’?

    __________
    ** I leave it the dear reader to determine an appropriate expansion for this acronym

  18. Mike says:

    Steven makes an excellent point in his last 2 paragraphs that the gambling industry which makes use of some of the best mathematical and scientific brains around to help its business ultimately relies on its customers uncritical thinking to part them from their money. I was surprised that the Venetian had made an offer to the welching gambler which didn’t involve removing body parts! But as Steven says they don’t want to do anything to make people think critically about gambling.

    As a matter of interest, do any of the readers of this blog gamble?

    (I spend a £1 per week in my staff lottery ‘cos if we win the jackpot all my employees are going to resign and I will take the money and join them!)

    • BillDarryl says:

      As a matter of interest, do any of the readers of this blog gamble?

      Do I ever. I enjoy the excitement of the games as well as learning about the math and stats behind the bets. And the free drinks.

      My favorite gambling site is wizardofodds.com. Lots of analyses, strategies, & general gambling info, all based on hard statistics, not feng shui and rabbit’s feet.

      • Mike says:

        Your website makes my point that there are a lot of smart guys behind the scenes of the gambling industry – I am never going to beat the odds with guys like that on the other side! I will stick to my £1 a week insurance bet in the staff lottery!

      • catgirl says:

        There are much better ways to invest that $1. I hope that you get some mild enjoyment out of the lottery, at least.

  19. If feng shui means that physical arrangements affect energy flow and that good/bad arrangements make for good/bad vibes or whatever, does this mean that God, Allah, whatever, really messed up the physical arrangement of places like Darfur, Somalia, Afghanistan, and New Jersey?

  20. Donna Gore says:

    Did anyone see the Penn and Teller “Bullshit!” episode about this? They did a little experiment. They hired 2 or 3 different “feng shui” experts to re-design the same room in a house. If it was a true science, then all of them would have come up with the same exact design. But they didn’t. Each one of them had a different layout for the room.