For those of you that aren’t huge fans of Las Vegas, we share something in common. It’s not that I don’t love a good game of poker; it’s the cheesiness factor that leaves something to be desired. While many of the resorts are something to behold live and in photos with lights and fireworks and waterworks galore, the bombardment of the less than tasteful M&M Museum, Zombie Palace or overpriced underthrilled rides can leave a bad taste in your mouth. It certainly doesn’t have the class of Monte Carlo, where everyone wears white and strolls along the sundrenched beaches when not gambling the night away in classy old casinos that date beyond my existence.
So, where else can you go if you want a good high class serious game of poker or baccarat? Of course, I’d heard of Macau, but had no interest in hitting Asia unless it was to see ancient temples and beautiful beaches in Thailand or cool marketplaces in Cambodia. A few years ago, I heard some stories from friend of a friend went to Macau back in 2003. At the time it was not much to write home about. She went to BASE jump off the Macau Tower after participating in Chinese National Day in Shanghai, and that in itself was pretty amazing, yet her picture didn’t inspire a visit as far as I was concerned.
In 2003, the casinos were smoked filled, florescent lit dens of standing room only tourists from China and Hong Kong. The lack of interest in maintaining personal space is enough to keep most Westerners running back to their hotel rooms. She had heard something about the Las Vegas Casinos moving in at the time but paid it little mind. Five minutes on the Internet today and I still cannot believe the transformation Macau has made over the last ten years.
Macau’s history itself is actually fascinating. It was the last colony to be returned the the People’s Repiblic of China in 1999. Before that it lived under Portuguese colonial rule. It resides on a small peninsula and two islands off China’s southern coast and its economy has relied heavily for decades on tourism from Hong Kong and China. While gambling is not allowed on mainland China, Macau’s special government has allowed for gambling since 1850, but it worked under a monopoly until 2002. Then everything changed!
In 2003, apparently right after this friend of a friend visited, the first foreign casinos broke ground, with the Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts at the helm. Now there are 16 glitzy glamourous casino resorts lighting up the night sky, with more slated for 2017.
When I say drop, what I mean to say is drop in the bucket. Macau casino revenues went from $7 billion in 2002 to $55 billion in 2014, leaving Monte Carlo in the dust almost immediately and surpassing Las Vegas in gambling revenues in 2007. However, for many years, the big games were Baccarat and Sic Bo. Source: hotel-r.net
My favorite game, poker, wasn’t even introduced until 2007 and only caught on because the Asia Pacific Poker Tour made Macau an event stop in November of 2007. From what I’ve gathered, this is the last year for that popular tour and now the PokerStars Championship will be held in Macau at their City of Dreams resort. Just the name makes me want to visit. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it, you can’t drink alcohol on the pit floor, so that probably tones down the possible party at the craps table. This just makes their passion for gambling that much more interesting to the recreational gamblers of the west.
The coolest part about Macau is that it still maintains its history and culture. While you may spend your nights at the casinos, where the table minimums start at three times those in Vegas, your days can actually be spent in quiet street corner cafes, at architectural ruins or real museums (not the M&M type). You can get up early and visit the Ruins of St. Paul’s Church and the nearby Fort Monte, built to protect the church from pirates. The ruins are a World Heritage Site. You can lunch by the water at the cozy Lord Stowe’s Café, which apparently has the number one desert in Macau. Many of the restaurants maintain their Portuguese influence, giving the picky eater many more options than typical Asian style food.
For the photographer in you, or in me, photo ops are varied and endless. Where else can you photograph the very serious Asian gambler wearing a business suit next to the velvet tux wearing Westerner? Of course – not inside the casino…. And where can you create a montage of ruins dating back to 1550 in the foreground with the lights of the towering Venetian Macau or Wynn Macau in the background. Well, I don’t know if you can actually take that shot, but it would certainly be a good one if you could.
So, I am hooked. I want to see this place, and after doing additional research, I need to start saving my pennies. Macau isn’t cheap with the average room being two to three times those in Las Vegas. However, as they still maintain some of the more historical avenues and parks, they also still have a total of three reasonably priced hostels and those corner cafes outside the casino resorts still offer affordable and delicious meals of varying ethnic origins. 2017 is the year to return to Asia, and Macau is on my list.