Introducing Macau: The new gaming playground for the super-rich.
Even a decade ago, if someone had a gun to your head and demanded that you tell them where the gaming capital of the world is, you almost certainly wouldn’t have chosen the China’s Special Administrative Region of Macau. This former Portuguese colony, which has long been unknown to much of the western world, has become the new giant of the gaming sector. In Macau’s pre-millennium era of, before Portugal handed the city-state back to China, its gaming industry was part of Macau’s seedy underbelly, which was overrun with criminal gangs. At least that was the case until the Chinese government opted to fully-regulate its casinos and gaming to provide a dose of integrity and legitimacy that has attracted gamers throughout the Far East and beyond to the peninsula.
In 2016, casino-goers in Macau generated an eye-watering $28 billion in revenue, putting Las Vegas to shame (Sin City earned only $6.3 billion). It’s fair to say that Macau has not only become the gaming capital of the Far East, but also the entire world. Macau’s gaming scene has been almost two centuries in the making. It was back in the mid-19th century when Portuguese officials sought new ways to generate revenue for the city following the mass exodus of merchants and traders to nearby Hong Kong. The regulation of gaming houses was just one of the ways that the administration sought to keep the residents of southern China and Hong Kong coming back.
A visit to Macau in 2018 is most definitely an intoxicating cultural experience where “east meets west”. It maintains a proud Portuguese flavour, with street signs still displaying Portuguese below Mandarin. It is the most densely-populated city on the planet, with over 652,000 residents living in an area of just 12 square miles. It remains the only place in China where gaming is legalised, giving the country’s super-rich billionaires the ideal place to live out their fantasies.
If you live in western Europe, you might be surprised to hear that Macau is the European Union’s (EU) third-biggest trading partner. That’s due to an Agreement for Trade and Cooperation, which has been in place since 1992. It seems a little bizarre to have a genuine rival for the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas in an area known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more than 400 years of history. Some of the biggest resort brands from the Vegas Strip have begun to set up camp in Macau; these include the Venetian Macao, which became the largest casino in the world, based on casino floor space. Meanwhile the Grand Lisboa Palace offers a wonderful colonial-influenced setting for table games such as roulette, blackjack and baccarat, the last of which is a game that the Chinese people simply live for.
The emergence of Macau as the new gaming capital of the world has also done wonders for the city’s economy. Some 15% of the city’s labour force work in gaming-related venues, and GDP per capita rose to £30,500 in 2017—one of the highest in the world. While it’s hard to ignore Macau as the newcomer on the gaming block, Las Vegas will, to many, remain the overall entertainment capital due to its Michelin-starred dining, world-class retail opportunities, and diversification into live gigs that rival those in the UK. Macau’s number-one focus is its gaming, and it will be hoping that its fortune holds in the years ahead.