Day in, day out, more than 80,000 visitors pour into Macau, which is a lot of punters for a city that doesn’t even stretch to 30 square kilometres. And most of them are headed to the city’s 30 or so casinos, hell bent on beating the odds and heading for home with pockets – or at least their bank account – bulging. Macau is still the only place in China where gambling is legal, and in recent years the Macau casino scene has exploded as major players from the United States have moved into town, bringing a barrel-load of American glitz and glamour.
The casinos are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many of the flashier ones are part of a hotel complex, ensuring that you won’t have far to stumble to catch 40 winks between sessions or just change your undies before heading back to the tables.
Las Vegas of Asia
Macau is sometimes described as The Wild East – never mind The Las Vegas of Asia – it should be not be noted there are one or two rules, which are enforced with varying degrees of nonchalance. The legal gambling age for foreigners is 18 and it’s 21 for Macau residents.
Macau casino management – and they are quite strict about this – don’t allow cameras, laptops or luggage into the gaming halls, so they have to be left at the cloakroom.
Dress codes can vary, but in general flip-flops (thongs), shorts and sleeveless tops are frowned upon for both sexes.
There are stricter controls in high roller rooms. Note that while Macau’s currency is the pataca, casinos work in Hong Kong dollars.
First-time overseas visitors will probably feel more comfortable in one of the American casinos such as Wynn, which is fronted by a broad lake whose fountain regularly bursts into an aquatic display accompanied by bursts of music.
Inside, owner Steve Wynn’s affection for over-the-top artworks, and the traditional Chinese predilection for omens of good fortune, make a good marriage: take a squizz at the 11-metre-high Tree of Prosperity that’s covered with gold leaf.
When it gets down to gaming proper, there’s a choice of Caribbean stud, roulette and blackjack.
There’s both No Limit Texas Hold’em and Omaha Pot Limit poker and it’s a rare hour of the day when there isn’t somebody pummelling one of the scores of slot machines.
It’s not a bad idea to sign up for Wynn’s Red Card – which is not unlike a frequent flyer membership scheme – and which can can be used with table games and slots, and offers a whole bunch of benefits.
As with all gaming halls in Macau, Wynn’s is officially non-smoking, though the smoking rooms (rather like you might find at an airport) are very well patronised.
A touch of Europe
The décor is flashy and over-stated, though nobody is paying too much attention to the carpet weave and the chandelier’s crystals.
The real action takes place in the restricted access high-stakes rooms, where the minimum bet (varying from Macau casino to casino) can be HK$1,000.
Alcoholic drinks and refreshments are served in these “VIP” dens, unlike on the main floor of the casino where – contrary to practices in Nevada – patrons are expected to cater for themselves.
The most popular games in Macau are blackjack, baccarat, craps, and poker. Slot machines in the major casinos tend to be patronised by husbands or wives or partners of dedicated gamblers, passing the time until their other half calls it a day.
Anyone new to Macau who hits the jackpot on the slot machines might be surprised to learn it’s customary to tip the staff 10 per cent of the winnings.
Even if you’re not partial to a flutter, the Venetian is one Macau casino worth a visit.
Other major casinos in Macau include the Lisboa, with its bizarre wedding cake design which dates from the 1970s when all the city’s gambling was controlled by one man, Stanley Ho.
Macau casino new kids on the block
Heading the new kids on the block are the Galaxy and City of Dreams – the latter is home to Macau’s best Broadway-style show, The House of Dancing Water, a jazzed-up Swan Lake that’s well worth seeing.
Offering a slightly different ambience, Mocha – there are seven outlets spread across the city – contain both slots and electronic games.
Bets for the slot machines can be as low as ten Hong Kong cents, though the jackpots are correspondingly rare.
The electronic games include baccarat, roulette and sic bo, a Chinese dice game.
Newbies should note that a Macau casino is usually heavily oriented towards the main customers – Mainland Chinese.
Crime levels are no worse than in any major city, but anyone who ends up with a substantial pile of winnings would be well-advised not to advertise the fact!
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