China Bans Karaoke Songs That Reference Gambling

Posted on: August 16, 2021, 03:50h. 

Last updated on: November 29, 2021, 01:02h.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced that songs mentioning gambling will be banned at the nation’s 50,000-odd karaoke venues.

Best songs about gambling
Kenny Rogers, pictured, is unlikely to be featured in any Chinese karaoke bars anytime soon. China has banned gambling-themed songs. (Image: Good Morning America)

The ministry said it would shortly compile a blacklist of music that will be off-limits to karaoke operators because it contains “harmful information” and “illegal content.”

Along with gambling, this includes songs with lyrics that allegedly inspire listeners to experiment with drugs. Also, a no-no is songs that “endanger national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity,” or which violate state religious policies by propagating cults or superstitions. All the good stuff, basically.

Instead, operators of karaoke venues and their content suppliers will be encouraged to provide “healthy and uplifting” music, according to the ministry. They are also asked to flag problematic lyrics to help government officials compile the blacklist.

All forms of gambling are illegal in China, except for state-controlled numbers and sports lotteries.

Cultural Revolution

Beijing has long been engaged in a war against illegal cross-border gambling. The government wants to clamp down on illegal gambling operators that target its citizens, as well as foreign land-based casinos that tempt Chinese nationals to gamble and move money abroad.

China maintains a vast program of internet censorship, dubbed the “Great Firewall.” This is designed to limit access to undesirable foreign information sources, as well as sites that host politically sensitive material, gambling, violence, or pornography.

More recently, Beijing has been tightening regulatory controls on China’s ascendant Big Tech industry, as it seeks to reign in the “disorderly expansion of capital” and ensure the industry remains in the interest of the state. This has resulted in industry net losses of $1 trillion, according to analysts.

But according to the Financial Times, the Karaoke crackdown is part of a mini-cultural revolution to replace a post-work, hard-drinking culture with “correct values.”

So, to get the ball rolling, and to assist the dystopian-sounding Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in compiling its blacklist, presents its top five songs about gambling.  

5 Casino Boogie – Rolling Stones

Is this song about gambling at all? Who knows? It has cut-and-paste nonsense lyrics set to blissed out, sloppy, shouty blues rock. It may also be the worst track on 1971’s Exile on Main Street. But that still means it’s good.

When Jagger sings, “One last cycle, thrill freak Uncle Sam / Pause for business, hope you’ll understand,” he’s surely singing about the Las Vegas gambling experience, albeit in a very oblique, sloppy, shouty way.

Social and cultural disharmony rating: 8

4 Lawyers Guns and Money Warren Zevon

Zevon: Satire

“I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk / Send lawyers, guns, and money, Dad, get me out of this,” sang the great Warren Zevon.

He was being satirical about the misadventures of wealthy young Americans abroad, but we’re not sure the politburo in Beijing would see it that way.

“And I’m hiding in Honduras, I’m a desperate man,” he continues. “Send lawyers, guns, and money / the shit has hit the fan.”

Social and cultural disharmony rating: 8

3 Pokerface – Ghostface Killah

Four years before Lady Gaga sang about her “p-p-poker face,” the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah gave us this, a track in which he described his own poker prowess in loving detail. Except Ghostface’s poker strategies were spotty at best.

Looking at quads, waiting for someone to bluff /
So I checked ’til someone said I had enough

Quads! OK, Ghostface, how long have we got? Never slow play your monsters. You need to extract maximum value from those hands, you noob.

Social and cultural disharmony rating: 7

2 The Gambler – Kenny Rogers

Better advice came from Kenny Rogers, whose The Gambler has been overplayed to the point of exhaustion, especially when there’s anything vaguely related to gambling on TV. But the song contains simple but vital wisdom for anyone who has ever gambled and whoever will: “You got to know when to walk away.” Simple as that.

Social and cultural disharmony rating: 6

Ace of Spades – Motörhead

Lemmy: That’s the way he liked it

“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools/But that’s the way I like it, baby,” explains Lemmy from Motörhead in the greatest song about gambling ever.

That’s the way we like it too, Lemmy. But we suspect the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is not so down with it.

Social and cultural disharmony rating: 10