Travel is all about taking chances: trusting strangers, fleeing the familiar, accepting a certain degree of risk. The road less travelled can be a hot streak waiting to unfold. So, here are a handful of exotic locales to take Lady Luck (to the cleaners). Just remember to quit while you’re ahead.
1. Fan-tan, Macau
Otherwise known as 'Buttons', this classic Chinese parlour game still draws crowds in the former Portuguese colony turned 'Vegas of the East', despite having disappeared from most official gambling dens around the world. Piles of white buttons are placed on the table then covered with cups by the dealer. Essentially each player has five choices: Fan, Nim, Kwok, Nga Tan or Sheh-Sam-Hu-Hong, in descending level of risk. If you hit the Fan (that’s three to one thank you very much), it’s time to hit the harbour.
2. Pachinko, Japan
Japan’s pachinko parlours are easily mistaken for video game arcades and were originally created as children’s toys. Inside red-eyed locals drop thousands of ball bearings into psychedelic pinball machines (or pachislo) and negotiate as many balls as possible through a maze of numbers and flashing lights. It's too loud to hear yourself think, which is probably just as well because all you really think is, ‘what am I doing here?’ and ‘is that a good siren or are we under alien attack?’ Winners are given a ticket stub that is redeemed for a fluffy toy. At a nearby booth, a yakuza rookie then exchanges the toy for fistfuls of yen. It’s highly ridiculous but highly addictive.
3. Two-up, Outback Oz
There's a scene in an infamous old Aussie horror movie, Wake in Fright, where a young schoolteacher loses his month's salary – and his sanity – on this simple game of chance. These days it’s only legally tolerated on Australia Day (26 January) when the ‘spinner' tosses two coins in a circle and beer-soaked punters scream 'odds' or 'evens'. If you win, there's always 'double or nothing'. Then it’s definitely your shout for the schooners.
4. 30 & 40 (Trente et Quarante), Monte Carlo
This 17th-century French card game is peculiar and classy, and almost strictly played in Monte Carlo. Also known as 'rouge et noir', its rules are clear enough: total your row of cards above 30 without breaking 40 and hope the dealer can’t top your score. To get your head around the betting systems though, you may need a firmly shaken martini and a specialist in tax havens to fund your easily made faux pas. The golden rule of this game, like on any jaunt along the French Riviera, is to always take insurance.
5. Muay Thai, Bangkok
In an era of oiled-up Ultimate Fighters grappling in cages in their jockstraps, authentic Muay Thai kickboxing looks all the more hardcore. An honest night out in Bangkok can feel limp without witnessing the thrill of foot on jaw. Betting is supposed to be illegal here, but it’s easy to find action in the big stadium events. Follow the wads of baht and choose either blue shorts or red shorts. Hot tip: back a tall Russian, or anyone who looks like Tony Jaa.
6. Cricket, India
Cricket is big business in India and so is black-market bookmaking. An average five-day Test match between India and arch rivals Pakistan can be the subject of billions of dollars’ worth of live tickets. The atmosphere at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata or the flash Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai will make your sugarcane juice that much sweeter. Constant allegations of foul play only add to the intrigue – did he actually drop that catch? Was that replay so inconclusive?
7. Cee-lo, New York City
'Dice' is not for kids, though its popularity among the hip-hop fraternity has given it a certain juvenile street cred. Cee-lo really took off in Harlem in the 1970s where it was associated with lowbrow hustlers and pimps. If you fancy a throw, enquire about the house rules but expect enquiries as to whether or not you are ’five-o’ (police). Granted it is mildly more acceptable today; those packs of three red and green plastic die on the shelves of the Korean bodega are not meant for Snakes & Ladders.
8. Stock market, Dubai
The new breed of barefoot broker can, in theory, fund their travels with only one eye on the NASDAQ. But if you want to upgrade to the first-class cabin, you may need to seek out some volatility in the market. Luckily the DSM in the desert oasis of Dubai is about as easy to predict as a sandstorm. Be warned: if you pick a bear and not a bull, your next trade may be that suite at the Burj Al Arab for an open-air Bedouin tent.
9. Pool betting (football), Nigeria
Nigeria may have shaken off the last vestiges of British rule, but the interest here in the English football leagues feels like one heavy neo-colonial hangover. In government-licensed betting shops from Lagos to Kano, crowds gather around transistor radios on weekends clutching fixtures for the 50-odd matches played in every division across England. Who knew a chanceless encounter between Dover Athletic and Torquay could make or break a tipster in Las Gidi?
10. Luchas de Apuestas (wrestling), Mexico
The masked wrestlers of Mexico up the stakes in these no-holds-barred ‘wager matches’ by putting their secret identities on the line. Blessed with more cojones than Batman, stars like Mistico and Rey Mysterio are part of a tradition of public ‘unmasking’ – or the cutting of signature hairstyles – should they somehow lose the bout. While we recommend steering clear of putting your hard-earned on the outcome (unless you know the scriptwriter) you can’t deny the theatre of watching grown men lose (then cry).