By Anna Taylor
Vegas’ once unshakeable reputation as world gambling capital is under threat. Find out how Macau is vying for the title and could just claim it.
First came Monte Carlo, then came Vegas, and now Macau is the new contender for the world’s gambling capital. Despite the autonomous southern Chinese region having eclipsed Vegas’ annual gambling revenue several years ago, Sin City is not quite ready to give up the title just yet.
An abundance of casinos notwithstanding, the two cities are very different when compared with one another. It is precisely those differences that could swing things either way – for now.
Histories of Gambling
History has played an important role in both Macau’s and Vegas’ eminent position in the gambling world.
Gambling has been legal in Macau for longer than in Vegas, and the only reason for this is because Macau was a Portuguese colony from the mid-16th century until 1999. It remains the only part of the People’s Republic of China in which gambling is legal.
It should also be noted that Western-style casino games were introduced to Macau only in the mid-20th century. Before then, traditional Chinese games of chance such as Fan-Tan were played.
The development of gambling in Macau was further hindered by a 40-year monopoly on casino operations, held by Stanley Ho of Hong Kong. It was only after the Chinese government ended the monopoly in 2001 that the region’s casino boom really took off.
Conversely, Vegas saw its first casino established in 1931. The second followed in 1941, and the development of new casinos, resorts, and hotels continued apace from then on.
The developments were bound to attract players and tourists, as Nevada was, at the time, one of very few US states in which gambling was legal.
Gambling in Macau and Vegas Now
Macau’s post-2001 casino construction boom has been nothing short of phenomenal. As of 2016, the region is home to more casinos than the famous Las Vegas Strip, and seems unaffected by the proliferation of online slots, mobile casinos, and the like.
There are 35 casinos in Macau, and only 31 on the Vegas Strip. In 2007, the Monte Carlo of the Orient brought in more gambling revenue than Sin City; six times more, to be precise.
The amount of money spent on betting in Macau in one week is roughly the same as what is spent in Vegas in one year. In fact, gambling now contributes almost 50 per cent of Macau’s GDP, and gambling taxes contribute 70 per cent of the local government’s income.
That said, Las Vegas still attracts more visitors. More than 40 million visit Sin City annually, whereas Macau receives just over 30 million visitors.
Different Approaches to Gambling
One of the biggest differences between Macau and Las Vegas, and arguably the reason that the latter has managed to cling onto its title as world gambling capital, is the two regions’ visitors’ reasons for visiting.
The vast majority of Macau’s visitors are there because they are serious about gambling, so that is what the region’s casinos offer. Slot machines are definitely available, but it is table games and card games such as Baccarat and Blackjack that are the main attractions.
Vegas, on the other hand, has always been about more than just gambling. Sin City is famous for its nightlife, shows, extravaganzas, and shopping, and it remains a popular destination for college breaks, bachelor and bachelorette events, conferences, and more.
In contrast to Macau, it is slot machines that are the most popular games, and those are played more for entertainment and as a social activity, as opposed to the games being viewed as opportunities to get rich quick.
Time will tell whether Macau takes Vegas title as the world’s gambling capital, but both destinations certainly offer something special, and are truly unique too.
Author: Anna Taylor
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