Macau-Vegas of the East
The first week in October we went to Macau from Hong Kong on a large jet-boat. It takes about an hour to go from the large new ferry terminal in Hong Kong to the ferry terminal in Macau. Macau has gambling and is the only place in China where you find casinos. There are many, many casinos. We only went to a few..the old Lisdoa, the new Lisboa, Wynn’s, the MGM Grand… There are more like the Venetian, the Galaxy, the Sands, and there are many more being built. Asians do like to gamble.
Macau, like Hong Kong, is a Special Administrative Region. So, when you enter, your passport is checked and stamped, visa is checked, etc. They use money called Macau patacas, not RMBs, or Hong Kong dollars, although these are easily exchanged everywhere.
Macau was a Portuguese colony since the early 1500s. Macau was given to Portugal in return for a favor… Portugal drove out troublesome pirates from the coast in that area. Macau somehow managed to avoid the Opium Wars, unlike Hong Kong. It was also returned to China in 1999, a couple of years after Hong Kong was. It was the last European settlement to be handed back over in Asia. Like Hong Kong, there is a 50 year agreement with the Chinese that Macau will not change radically. The actual city of Macau is on a peninsula attached to the China mainland. It also has islands named Taipa, Coloane, and reclaimed land named Cotai that is connected by bridges. The Cotai Strip is where many of the new casinos are being built.
Macau itself feels different from the rest of China… 400+ years of European colonization will do that. There are many Catholic churches, and the architecture has a European feel.
While we were visiting this church, we saw two brides and grooms being photographed. The Chinese are very big about weddings, but they are also into preparation…they do not wait until the wedding to take pictures, they take them sometimes months in advance. Notice our picture of the bride in green socks and yellow sneakers under her gown.
There is very good seafood and Poruguese wine in Macau. The food itself is a mixture of Portuguese and Chinese, specifically Cantonese, which is right across the border. We ate at a very good restaurant called the Clube Militar de Macau. It was built in the 1800s and was originally a Portuguese soldiers officers’ club. It was quite fancy and had very good codfish which we sampled. The building itself was large, brick, painted pink, and was in the shadow of the Hotel Lisboa.
Gambling has been going on in Macau since 1851, when the Portuguese made it legal. It was for years a small operation, and, until recently controlled by one man, Stanley Ho. This ended in 2002, and outside interests like those from Las Vegas came in, making Macau grow tremendously in the last 8 years. It surpassed Vegas in 2007 in revenues, and has no end in sight. With a billion gamblers across the border, that’s a lot of potential!
Interestingly enough, all the gambling is done using Hong Kong dollars. So you are in Macau with Macau money (patacas) and you have to change it for Hong Kong dollars in order to gamble. We were surprised that it brings in more money than Vegas, as the casinos seem quieter, less bells and whistles, people seem less loud, as compared to Vegas. They do have slot machines, but the payout is only through printout, redeemable at cashier, no coins clacking in the trays, no coins going in. At the gaming tables they have mostly Eastern games, which we could not quite figure out….one looked similar to Blackjack, but it involved only one player against the “banker,” with others betting along with one or the other…couldn’t tell how you win, because sometimes the player won by having cards lower than banker, sometimes higher? It’s hard to gamble when you don’t know the game. They did have regular Blackjack, but not many were playing it. We looked for Craps, but couldn’t find it many places. We finally found it at the MGM Grand, but only two active tables. We played some and lost money pretty quickly. The minimum bet at all the table games is 100 Hong Kong dollars (about $14 US). That may be why they are making more money than Vegas! In Las Vegas, most minimum table bets are either $2 or $5. Here you can lose your money about 3 to 7 times faster! At the table we were at, there were some other Americans (besides us). These guys were loud…typical Americans! When it was their turn to shoot, they would bet against each other, hoping their friend would “crap out.” It was interesting to watch. When they did this, the Asian players at the table would not bet, they didn’t think it was good luck to be against the shooter!
We only gambled a small bit. The weather was a bit rainy and gray and our time was limited to two days, so we didn’t do a lot. We walked around some and rested in our hotel. Then we went to the Macau Airport, which is all built on reclaimed land. It had a large number of duty-free shops. We laughed when we saw the English-labeled cartons of “Long-Life” cigarettes. China does not push for non-smoking much. We took off on the one runway and flew back to Shanghai. We would like to go back to Macau to see more of the Portuguese influence and maybe gamble some more!