Sep 21, 2006|
Macau is well on its way to becoming the next Las Vegas. In three short years, the city hopes to have completed it’s ambitious Cotai Strip, a chunk of reclaimed land connecting Taipa and Coloane Islands that will provide 30,000 hotel rooms, 1,000 gaming tables, at least 30,480 square meters of convention space and 150,000 jobs.
The godfather of all Macau casinos, Stanley Ho’s Casino Lisboa, has ruled the roost in the Macau casino world since the late 1960s. It is often credited with having turned Macau into the “Monte Carlo of the Orient,“ and without rivals for over the first two decades of its existence, it raked in an obscene amount of money from legions of dedicated dice-throwers, transforming Macau and giving Stanley Ho his fortune. But when the government lifted the Lisboa’s monopoly two years ago, many companies were eager to step in. The Galaxy Waldo and the Sands Macau arrived soon after the law changed.
Both casinos were keen to make a huge splash on the scene, and so lured away Lisboa’s old regulars, their staff and even their investors with promises of a newer, bigger and better gambling experience. This was only the beginning of what may prove to be outright casino turf war, with over ten more casinos (ten!) set to open on the dice-throwing islet before 2009. Just two weeks ago, Wynn Casino threw open its doors with a massive celebration featuring spectacular fireworks and glittering showgirls. In contrast, the nearby Lisboa, with its dated design, looked like an aging rocker.
So what’s next? Here’s a tour of what’s there and what’s coming.
The Don: Steve Wynn is the daddy of the Vegas casino scene and is credited with leading the massive resurgence and expansion of the city in the 1990s.The son of a bingo parlor owner, Wynn first entered the gambling industry when his father died and left him the family business. In the late 1970s, he landed a deal granting him controlling interest in a dusty Las Vegas casino, The Golden Nugget. The Nugget became an overnight success when Wynn renovated and revamped it into a plush complex. He later set up the Mirage Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, followed by the Bellagio Resort. After selling Mirage resorts to MGM Grand, he then sunk the assets into the Wynn Las Vegas, which opened in 2005. Now the time has come for him to turn his attention to Macau and his signature Wynn Macau casino exploded onto the scene two weeks ago with a massive fireworks display.
The Deal: The Wynn is the biggest complex in Macau so far, with 600 rooms and suites, two heated pools and, of course, the obligatory playboy-style whirlpool and neighboring cabanas. There are six restaurants and three bars. As for the gaming, there’s a whole host of tables offering every game from traditional classics like blackjack and roulette to more niche games, like Caribbean stud, sia bo and fan tan. Of course, there is also a legion of slot machines where you can wager as little as five cents all the way up to $2,500/USD322. There’s also a spa and luxury shops such as Prada, Tiffany’s and David Tang’s luxury Cuban cigar shop, where you can happily splurge your hard-earned winnings. For art lovers, an original Matisse (“The Persian Robe”) and an original Renoir (“Among the Roses”) hang in two of the reception areas.
The Stakes: The Wynn cost around US$1.1 billion to develop.
The Wild Card: “The Performance Lake,” which creates a spectacular show of lights and water every evening.
The Don: Galaxy Casino S.A. recently sold 97.9 percent of the company shares to K. Wah Construction Materials (KWCML). The controlling shareholders of this group are Lui Che Woo and his elder son Francis Lui.
The Deal: Immediately to the east of Wynn, the Starworld is not just going to be a gambling emporium but also an entertainment center. It was initially supposed to be opening in the first half of 2006, but is now expected in early 2007. It will be over 33 stories tall, with about 200 tables, 300 slot machines and 560 rooms and suites.
The Stakes: US$150 million
The Wild Card: At 34 stories, the Galaxy StarWorld will be the tallest building in Macau.
The Don: Stanley Ho, nicknamed the “King of Gambling,” has held a monopoly over the Macau casino world for the past 30 years. He is officially the wealthiest man in Macau and ranks in the top 100 wealthiest men in Asia. According to Forbes’ rich list, he has an estimated a net worth of US$6.5 billion.
The Deal: With the influx of all these swanky new casinos, don’t expect the Casino Lisboa to lie down and choke out its last breath as it is quietly strangled by the competition. No, Stanley Ho is launching an even bigger, better version of his old classic directly opposite the original, called “The Grand Lisboa.” It will have 200 tables, 300 hotel rooms, 44 floors and will be shaped like a bright yellow lotus leaf with a massive glass dome at the base. Work is progressing solidly, but an opening date has yet to be announced – it is expected to open in the second half of 2007.
The Stakes: Over US$300 million
The Wild Card: Ho is also investing in two theme parks in Macau, and word on the street is this casino may feature a futuristic roller coaster, in true Las Vegas style.
The Don: A joint venture between US-based MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho, Stanley Ho’s daughter.
The Deal: With over 600 rooms and sitting directly opposite the Wynn, it looks like Pansy and Steve are going to go head-to-head in a battle for the gamblers. Set to open at the end of 2007, the arrival of the MGM Mirage’s investment will officially put Macau on the map as the new Las Vegas.
The Stakes: US$975 million
The Wild Card: Regulars to Stanley Ho’s emporium will no doubt be curious to see if his daughter has got the gift of the gambling table.
The Don: Owned by The Las Vegas Sands Corporation, whose CEO is Sheldon Adelson, a 71-year-old billionaire and, according to the Forbes rich list, the 14th richest man in the world.
The Deal: The sister casino to the famous Las Vegas Venetian, this place is going to the biggest casino in Macau and the centerpiece of the Cotai Strip. Just like the Las Vegas Venetian, this complex will have a Disneyesque Venice theme. The construction site covers a massive 10.5 million square feet, and the complex will contain around 3,000 hotel rooms, 1 million square feet of convention and exhibition space, a 2,000-seat showroom, an 850,000 square foot shopping center and a 15,000-seat auditorium. Seven major hotel groups are also expected to invest in a cluster of hotels on the site. In short, this venue is going to be absolutely colossal and will change the face of Macau’s gambling scene forever.
The Stakes: US$1.8 billion has gone into the casino alone. Meanwhile, a further US$1.7 billion will be invested in hotels on the complex.
The Wild Card: It’s massive.
The Don: The Crown Macau is the brainchild of parent company Melco International Development, currently under the leadership of its Chairman & CEO, Lawrence Ho. Yep, you guessed it, Stanley Ho’s son.
The Deal: Standing at 160 meters tall, Crown Macau is claiming it will become the first six-star casino-hotel in the city and the tallest building on Taipa Island. It’s intending to target globe-trekking high-rollers. With a total construction area of 106,000 square meters, the casino-hotel will be comprised of over 200 deluxe VIP guest rooms, of which 24 will be VIP suites and eight will be presidential villas. The gaming complex will be set over six stories and will house over 200 gaming tables and more than 500 slot machines.
The Stakes: Melco is rumored to have plowed US$900 million into the project.
The Wild Card: This is set to be the VVIP casino of all VIP casinos, and will be worlds apart from the dingy, smoky casinos of Stanley Ho’s past.
Your original $100/USD13 bet at the blackjack table has suddenly blossomed into a small fortune. You’re on your third beer, courtesy of the friendly cocktail waitress who comes by every once in a while to make sure you’re not thirsty. Oddly enough, you’re not tired, or even vaguely drunk, but it seems like you’ve been at the table for days. So you look vaguely, then frantically, to see what time it is. But there are no clocks to be found anywhere on the walls.
Welcome to the wonderful world of casinos. The scenario above includes at least three tricks of the trade that casinos almost always employ, but will rarely admit to. Free drinks, fresh oxygen regularly pumped in and a lack of clocks are just three ways that casinos have been known to gradually cajole gamblers to keep spending at the tables.
There are plenty more. As of last year, new UK casinos were banned from using so-called “American tricks of the trade” in a bid to make them socially responsible. This supposedly includes the periodic release of pheromones that are said to encourage aggressive gambling. Other tactics include the simulation of daylight, confusing floor plans and the strategic use of soothing colors. All of which, of course, are intended to keep gamblers happy and spending.
Most of the time gamblers don’t even realize what’s happening as it’s often done under benign auspices. Indeed, while this gambler was recently playing blackjack at the newly opened Wynn Resort in Macau, a friendly manager offered myself and two others a special “Red Card” as a result of our “good playing,” which could eventually be redeemed for free meals and rooms. That is, just as long as we keep playing at the slot machines and card tables during future visits. At no point did anyone offer to tell us just how many “points” would be needed to claim our prizes.
Last year, Macau earned more in gaming revenues than the Las Vegas Strip, taking in over US$6 billion. With an estimated take of US$18,000 per table (according to the Asia Times), there's a lot of money at stake, which means Macau’s casinos also have to be ultra-sophisticated when it comes to keeping punters happy.
Nobody would reveal anything to us, but rest assured that Macau casinos have thousands of small surveillance cameras hidden behind one-way glass surfaces. Every move on a casino floor is undoubtedly videotaped, with cameras that are so sophisticated that they could zoom in on faces, hands and the cards that you are playing. As happens in Las Vegas, a surveillance command center would then alert trained security in case any suspicious activity is sighted on the floor.
In Macau, the high-rollers in the bacarrat rooms account for 80 percent of Macau’s gambling intake, and blackjack is the game with the best odds (the house has a mere .20 percent advantage). And as Macau’s casinoscape continues to expand, and these intakes increase, you can expect casinos to employ even more sophisticated techniques to make sure you’re happy right where you are, pumping your hard-earned cash into their machines.
If you think going to Macau is really just all about the gambling then you must have read the wrong travel brouchure... We've rounded up some of the other activities which you can do besides pumping the Macau economy with your hard-earned cash at the tables...