Macau vs Las Vegas

Macau vs Las Vegas

A look at how the two gambling meccas - Las Vegas and Macau - measure up.

Lakers vs Celtics, Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Liverpool vs Manchester United. Rivalries like these provide fuel for conversation in pubs, offices and park benches the world over. So when it comes to the world of gambling, how do the two big rivals - Macau and Las Vegas - measure up against each other? 

Macau enters the ring

Since opening its doors to foreign casino operators in 2001, Macau has steadily built its challenge to Las Vegas' crown. In 2006 Macau finally overtook its American rival in gambling revenues, climbing 23% that year to take in an estimated $6.87 billion, against $6.69 billion for Vegas. 

Situated 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of Hong Kong, and bordering southern China's Guangzhou province, Macau was handed back to the Chinese by its European colonists Portugal in 1999, and like Hong Kong now has the status of "Special Administrative Region" in the People's Republic. In the years since, casinos have popped up all over the tiny Macau peninsula and its islands. 

With a population of just over half a million, Macau has always been more conducive to foreign influence. Gambling was legalized by the Portuguese in the mid-19th century, beginning the tradition that exists today. With its links to mainland China and Hong Kong, where gambling hasn't been legalized, Macau is the natural place for people to place their bets. So much so, that most Macau casinos operate in Hong Kong Dollars rather than in the local currency, the Pataca.

Taking the lead

Today Macau has 28 casinos, with more in the pipeline. The biggest is the Venetian Macau, opened in August 2007 and owned by the Las Vegas Sands hotel chain. Reflecting the influence of rival Las Vegas on Macau, The Venetian Macau is modeled on the Venetian in Las Vegas. Except that the Venetian Macau is significantly larger in comparison, being the third-largest building in the world in terms of floor area (980,000 square mile, or 10.5 million square feet). 

Other Macau casinos originating in Las Vegas include the Wynn Macau, owned by Wynn Resorts, and the Sands Macau, owned by Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson. 

Last year Macau took in an estimated $10.3 billion in gambling revenue, increasing its lead over its rival. Twenty-two million tourists visited in 2006, a figure the Macanese expect to double within five years. With the economic downturn in the US hitting the formerly "recession-proof" Las Vegas gambling industry hard, Macau looks set to rise further still. 

Las Vegas kicks back

However, with a metropolitan area of almost two million, and with its reputation as a tourist and gambling destination in a nation of 300 million people intact, Las Vegas is far from dead. In fact, despite reports of its impending decline, Las Vegas still has more casinos than Macau, and played host to 39.2 million tourists in 2007, setting a new record for the fourth consecutive year. 

While Macau's rise has justified Sheldon Adelson's quip that "instead of people saying Macau is the Asian Vegas, Vegas will be regarded as the American Macau," the truth is the real winner of the battle has been the average gambler. Instead of having just one gambling mecca, there is now one in North America and one in Asia, giving everybody else more options for where to take their next casino-oriented vacation. 

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