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Bchin, thanks, I just got home earlier this afternoon. Xiaohu, sorry to hear that … Ysabel, Anurman, HPC, you are welcome.

The admission fee was actually a tax that has to be paid to the local government. During the time when money was desperately needed like right now, governments in all parts of the country administered all kinds of way, concocted various items to draw taxes.

Yin Ru Ge's admission tax was collected by a gambling officer dispatched by the local government, and was then transferred into the government coffers bypassing the casino.

Starting in the Warring States period [475-221 BC], due to severe devastation caused by gambling, which oftentimes made one losing his family fortune, also because it attracted all kinds of damage to the societal order and corrupt practices in general, there was a law that prohibits gambling. Then Qin Shihuang unified the world, so Li Si [c. 280-208 BC, Legalist philosopher, calligrapher and Prime minister of Qin kingdom and Qin dynasty from 246 to 208 BC] drew up the law to prohibit gambling. Light punishment would be 'pricking the outline of a whale on the face' [not sure: 刺鲸纹脸], heavy punishment would be 'flogging on the thigh'.

The Han dynasty also continued this gambling prohibition.

Until the Wei, Jin, and North-South dynasties, during the rise of the land-owning class, the prohibition relaxed. Although in name, the gambling prohibition provision remained, the reality was gone.

During the last years of the Sui Dynasty, governments slackened and crippled, bureaucrats and businessmen in cahoots, gambling industry flourished, they joined hands to make big fortune.

After the Sui Dynasty collapsed, this style aggravated, all over the place government authorities happily increased their revenue by collaborating with businessmen to form joint venture like Yin Ru Ge.

Kou Zhong handed over the admission tax and entered the casino.

Yin Ru Ge's reputation as the most famous casino along the Yangtze river basin was not in vain; the furnishings were gorgeous and tastefully chosen, the halls connected by the corridors were setup with various gambling equipment. There were also VIP rooms for people with special status to enjoy.

This moment there were three, four hundred gamblers gathered in each hall, yet it did not feel crowded or stuffy at all. In the brightly lit halls, the overwhelming majority of the guests were men. Although there were only a small number of women guests, they all looked exceptionally beautiful, comparable to Auntie Hong of Chun Zai Lou; some gambled even more ruthlessly than the men.

Adding the beginning of spring [i.e. thoughts of love] feeling to the atmosphere were the female attendants going back and forth in the hall; none was not young, beautiful women with jade appearance. Their silky breasts were half-exposed, their jade arms brilliant and varied, sexy and captivating.

Kou Zhong was not good at betting. After going around the hall once, he realized that the most familiar to him were domino solitaire, tou bao [lit. precious dice; Sic Bo], and fan tan [lit. repeated divisions; Fan-Tan], three types of gambling game. [Translator's note: in case you want to know more, Baike Baidu has all three entries (牌接龙、骰宝、番摊) in Chinese, Wikipedia only has the last two in English.]

While he was considering whether he should try a couple of games, Liu An appeared from who-knows-where, enthusiastically pulled the sleeve of Kou Zhong's garment, and took him to a corner, where several mahogany chairs were provided for the guests to sit down, and said with a laugh, "Daye really came! Xiaoke [(polite) my humble person] just saw four fat sheep, I could pick one for Daye, and then we could go to the VIP lounge to make big fortune. Yin Ru Ge may only draw 10% commission, so the money Daye win will stand for 70%, because Xiaoren will be perfectly satisfied with 20%. After we get our money's worth, Xiaoren will hand the token to Daye to take part in the competition. If Daye reaped total victory, you may share 20% to Xiaoren, otherwise, Xiaoren will not receive a single penny. What does Daye think?"

Kou Zhong pretended to act boorish; he waved his hand to tell the female attendant in front of him, who was going to serve him, to hurry up and leave, and then assuming a greedy look he said, "Where are those four fat sheep? Why would they want to bet against us?"

Lowering his voice, Liu An replied, "Naturally we must play a little bit of trick, which is we put on an act, let them think Daye is a fat sheep, naturally they will be happy to keep you company. Daye, don't worry, at that time Xiaoren will arrange everything. Right now the first step is to select the sheep. All these four fat sheep show bankrupt aura on their faces, they will undoubtedly lose."

Finished speaking, he took Kou Zhong to select the fat sheep.

Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi entered the casino about half a sichen later than Kou Zhong. This time Lei Jiuzhi has turned into a rather rich and respectable-looking old and gray-haired elderly gentleman with 'ten fingers'.

But tomorrow night, he would appear with 'Lei Jiuzhi' face.

Xu Ziling was still the scar-faced man; following Lei Jiuzhi, they went into the second hall, where nearly a hundred people were surrounding a fan tan table. Presided over the game was a middle-aged, but still attractive woman, brimming with windblown dust impression; her technique was quite skillful.

Fan-tan was also known as tanqian [lit. bearing part of the cost] or yanqian [covering up the money]. The rule of the game was that the casino personnel occupy the 'home' position. During the game, the home position grabbed short small bamboo tokens as the 'stall', which was covered quickly with a bowl, so that people could not see the number. After the people put their bet, the 'stall' was open to see who win who lose. The method of calculation was the 'stall' was taken four at a time, the remaining number could be one, two, three, or four, four different gates. Those who bet on the winning gate was compensated three to one, which was called 'fan' [occurrence]. Betting on two gates but hit one of the gates would be compensated one to one; this is called 'jiao' [corner].

When the two arrived, the fan-tan has been played three times with two repetitions; the atmosphere was boiling, the warmth shook the heavens. Many of those people who were usually dignified, this moment were gnashing their teeth, making a fist or waving their palms, shouting loudly at the stall gate that they put their bets on, as if the louder they shouted, the more it would influence the number of the stall.

Lei Jiuzhi leaned over to Xu Ziling's ear and said with a laugh, "This poniang is one of the four prominent figures within Jiujiang's Dulin world, the gambling ghost Zha Hai's capable assistant; her technique is not bad."

Astonished, Xu Ziling said, "You mean there's trick in their skill? On the surface, it looks very difficult to cheat in this game!"

Lei Jiuzhi said, "Nine out of ten gambling games can be cheated, anything can be cheated. The most common tricks in Fan-tan are 'la zhu' [leaving out tree trunk] and 'fei zi' [flying pieces], two types of tricks. In 'la zhu', the stall is rigged, so that if necessary, one can be divided into two. In 'fei zi', the stall can fly away using some trick. Either way, there are accomplices nearby 'prying on the side', using tobacco smoke or some other method to divert other people's attention, so that the old castaway [see Chapter 6] presiding over the game can play his trick. Naturally big casino like Yin Ru Ge will not resort to such trick, but at the top of the streets and the bottom of the alleys [idiom: everywhere in the city], most of the temporary Fan-tan stalls use such deceptive tricks." [Disclaimer: I am not familiar with gambling world, so I just translated it as is; might be grossly inaccurate. Apologies.]

These days, Xu Ziling have learned not a few of 'on-the-job' clever tricks related to gambling from Lei Jiuzhi. Curious, he asked, "In this kind of game, what technique would Lei Xiong use to ensure victory?"

Lei Jiuzhi laughed and said, "Unless we are cheating, there is no way we can ensure victory. But if in ten bets we win five, due to the high rate of the compensation, it is equal to certain victory. When the 'home' spills the tokens on the table and cover them with the bowl, relying on the eyes and the ears, there will be 50% chance of success."

Speechless, Xu Ziling said, "Lei Xiong is really formidable."

This moment the bowl was lifted up, the tokens were spread out, unexpectedly it was the second stall. Everybody sighed in despair, shouting about dishonest practices.

The two men moved toward the third hall; the main game in this hall was tou bao. The number of people in this hall was higher than the previous two halls. Every table was surrounded by so many people that it would be difficult to insert a needle; the atmosphere was blazing.

Lei Jiuzhi swept his gaze around; he still did not see Kou Zhong's shadow, thereupon he proceeded toward the fourth hall. The main game in this hall was card games; all those orange bulrush [橙蒲], double-continent, leaf play, dominoes, Tian Jiu, Pai Jiu [pai gow], horse crane, and so on; everything that should be there was there.

After many days hanging around the casinos, Xu Ziling was very clear about why gambling continued despite repeated prohibition. The casino world, where people were able to indulge themselves, was able to offer the excitement of getting lucky while taking the risk, which could not be obtained under normal day-to-day circumstances.

"Look!" Lei Jiuzhi suddenly said.

Following his gaze, Xu Ziling saw a particularly-bustling-with-noise-and-excitement Pai Jiu table, where sitting in one of the seats around the table was a young woman. This woman's eyebrows were like crescent moon, her eyes looked like limpid autumn waters, her face, her complexion were extraordinarily beautiful, enough to match other beauties of Shen Luoyan's caliber, and definitely would not be inferior in any respect. Especially alluring was the exquisite curves of her fully developed figure.

The number of spectators continuously grew. It was an inevitable matter.

Lei Jiuzhi spoke in low voice, "This is Hu Xiaoxian [lit. little fairy], the 'Da Xian' [great immortal' Hu Fo's only daughter. I did not expect her to come to join in the fun. The Tian Jiu Big Meet tomorrow night will be more interesting."

It was only then did Xu Ziling recall that Hu Fo was the Hu Xian Pai's zhangmen daxian [great immortal head of the sect], who opened Ming Tang Wo in Guanzhong, the most famous casino in the nation. Hu Xiaoxian was his beloved daughter, who had obtained the gambling skill that he personally passed on to her.

Lei Jiuzhi suddenly give Xu Ziling a push in his back and said, "Go on, play with her a few hands."

Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, "I am not well-versed in Pai Jiu at all!"

Laughing, Lei Jiuzhi said, "Without a novice, how could there be any skilled person? The rule here is that any gambler can take turn being the banker; the casino will only draw commission. Look, the house banker has been under pressure from her that his eyes nearly pop out. Ziling may take over the banker position to have some fun, the banker you protect will be extremely grateful to you."

Xu Ziling's scalp went numb; trying to decline in any possible way, he said, "Aren't we going to use the hard-earned silver we won for tomorrow night's Tian Jiu competition? If I lose it clean, what are we going to bet with in the Tian Jiu competition?"

Lei Jiuzhi laughed and said, "This is precisely the most brilliant aspect of our plan; in the past few days, you never worried about losing money, hence you were able to gamble with confidence and at ease, completely without any pressure. Just consider this time a test and a challenge for you. If you can apply the gambling technique and tactics that your LaoGe taught you, and you are able to put it in real-life application of life and death battle on the gambling table against a worthy opponent, if you win, I could say that you graduate with honor!"

Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, "Don't we have an appointment with Kou Zhong to help him select the fat sheep? How could a new branch grow out of a knot [idiom: side issues keep arising]?"

Lei Jiuzhi burst out laughing, saying, "Don't push to the left and ward off to the right; just look at Hu Xiaoxian as someone like Evil Monk or Amorous Nun, then you'll do just fine." While saying that, he pushed the pouch containing the gambling chips into Xu Ziling's hand.

Under repeated push from Lei Jiuzhi, Xu Ziling had no choice but to steel himself [lit. harden his scalp] to squeeze in by the banker's side and said, "Let me be the banker for a few rounds."

Everybody was stunned; they thought how could there be such a stupid person that went so far as to take over while the banker was in disadvantageous position?

Hu Xiaoxian cast a disdain glance toward him, giggled tenderly and said, "Why not? Zhuangjia DaGe [big brother the banker (in gambling)] is exactly what I've been looking for!"

Everybody roared in laughter in response to her remark.

Xu Ziling felt his face was burning hot, but this moment 'if you ride a tiger, it's hard to get off'; without any choice he took the banker's, who was slipping away from his seat, position.

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