The tiny town that was once an obscure Portuguese colony quickly became one of the richest cities in the world – thanks to its sprawling gambling industry. In 2006, Macau beat Las Vegas to become the largest gambling centre in the world.
The gambling Mecca of the Orient, Macau is everything Vegas is not. No loud music, no bright lights, no glamour, just hardcore, old fashioned gambling. Some 35 casinos, spread over eight square kilometres, cashed a total of £27.4bn last year. Now, let’s put the information in perspective – the amount is seven times more than what was collected by casinos on The Strip in Vegas!
Baccarat drives the Macau boom
If Macau is the Mecca, Baccarat is the religion. The card game, which was originally introduced in the 1930s by some of the earliest casinos operating in the area, is extremely popular among high rollers.
It’s the one game that matters in Macau and not because it’s the game that everybody’s favourite British Secret Service agent prefers, but because it’s packed with opportunities to win big! Casino operators know that and are now banking on increased tourism from mainland China.
Last year, an estimated 17 million people visited Macau. A majority of these tourists had a strategy in their minds and money in their hands, ready to be spent. Chinese gamblers visit Macau to win and not to have fun, operators say. Most stay on the peninsula for only a day, which is enough to play baccarat. As day breaks, about half of them take the first ferry to Hong Kong, along with their winnings from the previous day.
China’s very own Monte Carlo
Baccarat has given China its very own Monte Carlo. However, casino operators in Macau know better than to rely on 24-hour-long “tourism” alone. They are investing generously in resorts, malls and stage shows, rooting on a new kind of tourism, one that appeals to the growing middle and upper-middle class.
If high-rolling gamblers come, they can bring their families and so do Chinese visitors with little or no interest in gambling. Venetian Macau covered its premises with fake snow last year during Christmas. Sweets were handed out, carols sung and Chinese holidaymakers spent lavishly. With six new resorts under construction, the town is set to woo a larger chunk of the prosperous middle class.