Gambling is synonymous with Las Vegas life, but you might be stunned to hear that Sin City is no longer the world’s premier gambling destination. A small corner of China moved leaps and bounds in front of Vegas, driving four times more casino revenue than those on the Vegas Strip and in Downtown Vegas. The Special Administrative Region Macau in southeast China is Asia’s answer to Las Vegas. Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is now far and away the biggest gambling market on the planet. In 2015, the city generated casino revenues of $28 billion, compared with only $6.3 billion in the Nevada desert.
Since the mid-19th century, gambling has grown in popularity among the Macanese. However, the main issue with the city’s casino scene was always its lack of governance and regulations. It was rife with the city’s gangs, notably the Triads, that used to monopolize the industry. Wind the clock forward to the dawn of the millennium — when Macau returned to the Chinese government from Portugal — and China quickly moved to regulate its casino sector. Alongside Hong Kong, Macau remains the only place in China to legally gamble, which means that people from Mainland China flock to Macau to have a flutter.
The reason why Macau moved streets ahead of Vegas as the world’s gambling capital is due to the differing cultures in each city. In Vegas, it’s not only about the best casinos. It’s a city full of entertainment in all its various guises, whether it’s Michelin-starred food, exclusive nightclubs, live shows and theater productions or pool parties. However, in Macau, people never visit the city to see shows or hit the nightclubs: they enjoy the table games in the casinos too much for that.
Speaking of table games: the most popular form of table game in Macau’s casinos is not blackjack or roulette, but rather baccarat. Indeed, the game of baccarat consumes Chinese punters. Some nine-tenths of Macau’s gambling revenues generated at the baccarat tables, with the high-roller visitors to the city’s VIP casino rooms enchanted by the way the fickle hand of fate falls in baccarat. As a rule, Chinese people are quite superstitious. And since baccarat is very much a luck-based game rather than skill-based, it appeals hugely to the city’s Chinese visitors. Furthermore, alcohol is less likely on the menu for locals, with Chinese casino goers far more likely to sit down at a table with a latte or cappuccino in hand rather than a Singapore Sling.
At the time of writing, the Chinese government still prohibits playing casino games online, known as iGaming. That is why so many locals and Mainland Chinese visitors flock so regularly to Macau’s land-based casinos. As a result, those who prefer playing online must move elsewhere to take advantage of free spins that allow you to sample new titles for free as well as partake in matched-deposit offers.
Although baccarat was the dominant table game in Macau for many years, the appeal of Texas Hold ‘em poker changed that, rapidly spreading throughout the city’s 39 casino floors. Indeed, many of the world’s high-stakes cash game players fly into the city to play against one another as well as some of Asia’s super-rich. There’s also a growing contingent of live poker tournaments hosted by some of the world’s leading poker networks.
Given the casino scene is everything in Macau, the city is hard-pressed to try to entice tourists to explore the city’s rich and vibrant history. As a Portuguese colony until 1999, Macau is a veritable melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures that’s unlike anywhere else on the planet. Consequently, its dining scene is becoming revered around the world, with amazing fusion cuisine to rival the best.
Furthermore, the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO-listed site, is a fascinating place to explore near Senado Square. The Ruins of St. Paul’s, a former Roman Catholic cathedral, now stands proudly as a single wall overlooking the city. Thrill-seekers can also get their adrenaline fix in Macau thanks to the Macau Tower, offering bungee jumps from 764 feet — making it the world’s highest bungee platform. So, although Macau is very much casinos first, everything else second, there are more sides to the city than meets the eye.