Macau: “Vegas” of the East?
Hi there everyone, it’s been a while! Summer is winding down and school is back in session. Some of you may have a bit more free time now, and others may have a bit less. As for myself, I have had more free time recently and took advantage of that by taking a trip to Asia to visit Hong Kong and Macau. Prior to this I had only been to one other Asian country (Japan) so I was very excited to see another part of the world up close and get to experience the different food and culture firsthand!
As some of you may know, Macau is a small nation off the coast of China best known for its new, elaborate, and gigantic casinos. After spending a great deal of time in Macau, I can tell you that these casinos are indeed beautiful and enormous! I’ve spent my fair share of time in Vegas and the casinos there simply can’t compete with the ones in Macau when it comes to size and style. This revelation shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider all of the factors involved.
Macau is the only major location in that part of the world where gambling and casinos are legal, basically giving them a geographic monopoly on the gaming industry. Gambling is a very central and well known aspect of Chinese (as well as other Asian nations’) culture. Macau’s proximity to China allows people from mainland China to simply take a quick flight or even an hour ferry ride to reach the casinos. Combine all of those factors along with the fact that the Chinese economy has been booming in recent years, and it is no wonder that both American and Asian companies have been rushing to build casinos in Macau.
Companies and brands familiar to the Vegas regular such as Wynn, Sands, MGM, and Venetian already have thriving casinos in Macau, and most of them are looking to expand and open new casinos and double down on their investments there. With a bridge connecting Hong Kong to Macau scheduled to be completed in 2016 and gaming revenues beating Las Vegas returns five times over, it is likely that these multi-billion dollar bets will yield more blackjacks than busts! Just in case you were wondering, no, the California Grand Casino will not be expanding its operations to Macau…well, not yet anyway!
Many have dubbed Macau “The Las Vegas of the Far East” or “Asian Vegas.” While this is true on some levels, it couldn’t be further from the truth in others. The fact that Macau has so many similarities and yet still so many differences is quite simply staggering. Don’t let the similar glitz, glamour, and bright lights fool you, there is a stark contrast once you set foot inside these monstrous gaming meccas!
I’ll start with the similarities. The casinos are lavish, beautiful, and designed to amaze and impress. Once you are out on the gaming floor, you’ll hear the familiar sounds of slot machines ringing and gaming chips clinking together. The hustle and bustle will feel all too familiar to the Vegas regular, while all of the gaming options use their lights and sounds to vie for your attention. Groups of players gather around tables two and three people deep, craning their necks to get a view of the action taking place on the felt. Cocktail ladies saunter around offering drinks to patrons…and that’s where the parallels end…
The cocktail ladies are sometimes pushing around a drink cart, and that drink cart is loaded full of…tea. Coffee is also available as is bottled water, which can also be found simply sitting out on various gaming tables throughout the casino floor. Take a closer look around the gaming pit and you’ll notice a distinct lack of a couple things: alcohol and happy noise. The excited yelling, screaming, celebrating, and high-fiving that is so synonymous with Las Vegas excitement is nowhere to be found. Neither are the various cocktails and beers that you’re accustomed to seeing scattered about a casino pit. Sure you’ll find an occasional gambler with a drink, as they are indeed offered, but they are not complimentary. If you want alcohol, you must pay. There simply isn’t the demand for it like there is in American gambling culture.
Asian gambling culture is starkly different. The patrons take their gaming very seriously. They don’t come to the casino to have a good time, leave their stresses behind, let loose and party…they come to win. Their game of choice: Baccarat. While there are several other gaming options offered such as Sic Bo (High Low), Blackjack, Roulette, and Slots, I would estimate that nearly half of all the gaming tables and certainly half of all the gaming space is dedicated to baccarat. Players get to handle the cards and they make the most out of it, squeezing, bending, folding, and peeking at each of the cards that they get. The result is that cards are thrown out and are only used once, disposed of in a large box on the table. New cards are constantly being shuttled over to the tables to replace their mangled predecessors. All of this creates a very serious and fervent vibe; quite the juxtaposition to the Las Vegas party atmosphere.
Having experienced this culture clash first hand I must admit I was both amazed and yet not totally surprised. One culture is not necessarily better than the other, they are simply different. Ironically it is the fact that they are so different that makes the casinos the same. These casino environments are simply functions of the cultures that the casinos reside in. Ultimately it is you, the gambler that creates the environment; the only thing the casino wants to do is to cater to you.
I kept that thought in mind when I returned home and walked back inside the friendly confines of the Cal Grand Casino. I really did miss this place and seeing the familiar faces that populate the room brought a smile to my face. There really is no place like home. Until next time, see you at the tables!