Together with Hong Kong, Macao is one of the two special administrative regions of China. The former Portuguese colony is also the only part of China where gambling is legal. Gambling is one of the most essential industries of Macao, creating over 54,000 job opportunities. The industry was substantially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to the strict border control measures introduced in mainland China. Consequently, the gross revenue of casinos in the special administrative region dropped by more than 85 percent between 2019 and 2022, and was surpassed by revenue generated by casinos in Nevada.
How did Macao become the world’s casino capital?
Macao’s huge gambling success did not happen overnight. Back in 1930, the local government launched a monopoly franchise system for gambling houses. Thirty years later, the industry thrived after Stanley Ho obtained the monopoly concession to operate casinos and lotteries and started to build his multibillion-dollar empire. The casino tycoon led the transformation of Macao into the Las Vegas of Asia.
As of late 2022, six companies were operating a total of 42 casinos in the city. These large firms included some of the famous casino developers in Las Vegas, such as Las Vegas Sands, MGM, and Wynn Resorts. In fact, some of the largest casino resort complexes in the world are in Macao and they were modeled on their sister casinos in Las Vegas, but bigger and more luxurious. The Venetian Casino Resort in Macao is the largest casino resort in the world where Italian streets and canals were copied from its namesake. The resort itself has a hotel with 3,000 rooms and a shopping mall with hundreds of premier stores.
Macao’s vibrant gambling scene
Games played in casinos were called games of fortune in Macao. Among the 28 types of games available in Macao’s casinos, baccarat, slot machines, cussec (sic bo) are the most popular. VIP Baccarat, usually played in VIP rooms, is the largest contributer to casino revenues. Unlike other gambling destinations around the world, the main business of Macao’s large casinos takes place in these VIP rooms where high-risk games are held. Since the amount placed on bets tend to be extremely high in VIP rooms, these places have been associated with money laundering and other financial crimes.
In 2015, the VIP room business took the hardest hit from Beijing’s anti-corruption campaigns, leading to an economic slump in 2015 and 2016. This has driven the Chinese gambling paradise to move towards a family-friendly vacation destination for a broader range of visitors instead of relying too much on the VIP casino sector.
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