Betting in Macau

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The rags to riches tale of Macau is nothing short of phenomenal. In less than a dozen years after reversion to Chinese governance in 1999, the former Portuguese colony went from relative obscurity to the number one gambling destination in the world. Some of the credit goes to local businessman Stanley Ho, who in 1962 was awarded the enclave’s first gambling license. But it was the opening of Macau to international investment that sprung the genie from the bottle.

Among the first huge casinos to spring up in Macau almost overnight was the $240 million Sands Macao in 2004 followed by The Wynn Macau in 2006. Open 24/7, the Sands Macao has a 229,000-square-foot gaming space with 1,390 gaming machines and 440 table games, complimented by nine restaurants, a bar and a hotel with 289 rooms. The Wynn Macau competes for customers with a 205,000-square-foot gaming space featuring 924 gaming machines and 506 table and poker games, plus nine restaurants, two bars and a 1,008-room hotel.

By the end of 2006, Macau’s gaming revenues had eclipsed those of the iconic Las Vegas Strip. On Macau’s Cotai Strip in 2007, Sands opened its $2.4 billion Venetian Macao, the world’s biggest casino, offering 3,000 hotel rooms, 20 restaurants, 550,000 square feet of gaming space, 950 gaming tables and 3,000 slot machines. Then came the MGM Macau with 284,353 square feet of gaming space, 1,271 gaming machines, 427 table and poker games, seven restaurants, three bars and a 583-room hotel.

Meanwhile, Stanley Ho upgraded his original casino property to develop the Casino Grand Lisboa, with a 410,260-square-foot gaming space containing 700 gaming machines and 370 table and poker games. The venue also included nine restaurants and a hotel with 431 rooms. Ho also invested in a number of smaller casino properties, so that by the mid-2008 his company SJM Holdings owned 19 of the 29 casinos established in Macau.

Over the next several years, Chinese policy shifted away from encouraging casino development, under the belief that the market was becoming saturated. One of the last mega-resorts constructed in 2009 was the City of Dreams Macau, featuring a 194,700-square-foot gaming space with 1,122 gaming machines, 378 table games and three hotels with 1,400 rooms—the Hard Rock Hotel, the Crown Towers and the Grand Hyatt Macau.

Even as construction slowed, the number of tourists from the Chinese mainland continued to increase. In 2010, gambling revenues in the former colony rose by 58 percent and in 2011 they reached $32.5 billion, which was roughly five times as much as all gamblers spent on the Las Vegas Strip that year.

Today, visitors to Macau have their choice of 48 different gambling venues. They range from huge resorts like the StarWorld Hotel & Casino on the Avenida da Amizade, with its 511 hotel rooms, eight restaurants, 140,000-square-foot gaming space, 250 gaming machines and 247 table games, to the tiny Casino Diamond on Rua de Pequim with its 32 gaming machines and six table games. Some, like the massive Galaxy Macau with its 420,000-square-foot gaming space, 1,500 gaming machines and 600 table games, are locally owned, while others are financed from abroad, like the Australian-backed Casino Altira with 110 gaming machines and 171 table games.

Apart from the dozens of casinos and slot lounges that line Macau’s streets, there is also thoroughbred horse racing, courtesy of the Macau Jockey Club, and dog racing at the 500-yard track of the Yat Yuen Canidrome. Betting on the fast-paced sport of Jai Alai is also possible, too, at the Casino Jai Alai near the port. The casino has a 67,075-square-foot gaming space with 208 gaming machines and 85 table and poker games, plus a hotel with 92 rooms.

Worthy of note, the continued slowdown in new construction and the emergence of competitive gambling markets in Singapore and the Philippines are not expected to topple Macau from its title as the new “Gambling Capital of the World.” In fact, one report has predicted that a third of all casino earnings worldwide will be accounted for in Macau by 2016.

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