Asian Story and origins of Asian handicaps. Interview with Joe Saumarez Smith.


Hang Cheng (later Asian handicaps) is a form of betting which was invented somewhere in the Far East probably in the 1990s.

The English translation of the term Hang Cheng was provided by Joe Saumarez Smith in 1998. At the time Smith was a journalist writing for an English newspapers and for an online sports betting site. He relates this unusual story in one of the interviews:

'About 12 years ago I was approched by someone called Joseph Phan who was Indonesian bookmaker and he was just setting up his first ever online gambling site which was really the original Asian handicap betting site.

At the time I was working for something called Vegas Insider which was an American sports betting site which I ended up acquiring a couple of years later. Anyway, Jospeh Phan came to me and he said: "We have this form of betting which we call Hang Cheng that basically takes out draw as a betting proposition by giving handicap to one side and allowing only two betting options. Look, we are doing an English-language site and we need a term for this. Hang Cheng is not going to mean anything to anybody. So what should we call it?"

He sent me all the rules of the Hang Cheng betting and I spent some time thinking about it. I wrote him back saying "I think Asian handicap is about the right term, I don't think that's a brilliant term, but it's OK." And he said: "Fine, thanks for your help." Then he started putting it on his website, and the term started to get picked up. IG Index, the spread betting specialists, started using some of his betting lines to set the European sports betting lines, and as a result they started using "Asian handicaps" on their betting sites, and then people in their office started getting recruited by other companies... Thus, it ended up becoming an industry-wide term.

When I meet people in the industry, for example at the International Casino Exhibition, they come up to me and say: "Why on earth did you call it 'Asian handicaps' ? It's a terible term and sounds like some kind of a disability. You should have invented something else." And I reply: "I didn't know that at the time! It wasn't deliberate. I just got an e-mail from some guy in Indonesia and I was anserwing in half an hour. Little could I have known that it was going to end up as a universally used term. Obviously, I am delighted that it is, because I supose it's one of my legacies for the gambling industry. But it does seem like a strange way to have created history!'

Joe Saumarez Smith (London)

Education: a undergraduate degree from the University of Bristol and a MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Past Occupation: national newspaper journalist (UK) and online gambling journalist (Financial Times, The Times, Sunday Business, Business Life, The Telegraph, The Express and a number of other magazines).

Present Occupation: chief executive officer of Sports Gaming (London-based management consultancy to the gaming industry), the owner of a network of online bingo sites (e.g. Crown Bingo), gambling columnist at Bloomberg, online gambling journalist.