A Jersey Guy's Excellent Adventure in China

How I Lost in Poker and Won at Lunch in World’s Gambling Capital

 

It’s easy to get lost in The Venetian Macau, especially when you’re looking for the only craps table in the world’s largest casino.

The Venetian has 3,400 slot machines and more than 800 gaming tables, but the vast majority are for baccarat, which is far and way the most popular game in this former Portuguese colony that is now the biggest gambling city on earth.

I had to ask directions several times and wander around the 546,000-square foot casino for about 20 minutes before finally spotting the lone craps table. It was packed with players, but the atmosphere was subdued even when the shooter was rolling winning numbers.

There’s nothing worse than a quiet craps table, so I didn’t stay long before leaving to explore the mammoth hotel, casino, shopping and convention complex that covers 10.5 million square feet — enough to hold 56 football fields or 100 jumbo jets.

***

The Venetian is the perfect symbol for Macau, a Las Vegas on steroids that is a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, its companion city on China’s southeast coast.

They both have the same gaudy theme hotels, luxury stores, upscale restaurants and bleary-eyed gamblers. But everything in Macau is super-sized, including the revenue. Last year, Macau’s 35 casinos generated $45.2 billion, seven times as much as Vegas and more than all U.S. casinos combined.

As for physical size, five of the world’s 10 largest casinos are in Macau. Only one is in Vegas – the MGM Grand.

Another major difference between Macau and Vegas is entertainment. Macau has fewer shows and other non-gambling activities than Vegas, which now markets itself as a family vacation resort as well as a gambling mecca. The Chinese are serious gamblers who don’t seem to need a lot of distractions from their casino games.

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As a result, the minimum and maximum bets here are higher than they are in Vegas or Atlantic City. In baccarat, for instance, the lowest minimum bet I saw at the Venetian was 1,000 Hong Kong dollars, which is about $130. In the high-stakes rooms, I saw one table where the maximum bet was 2 million Hong Kong dollars, or $258,000. One player was routinely betting $100,000. He lost more than $1 million while I was watching, though I have a feeling that was cab fare for him.

Macau’s casinos are located in two areas. The main district is on Macau Peninsula, while the newer Cotai Strip is on reclaimed land that connects what used to be two separate islands. The two largest casinos, the Venetian and City of Dreams, are on the Cotai Strip. Familiar Vegas brands such as MGM, Wynn and Sands are on Macau Peninsula.

Poker, like craps, isn’t popular in Macau. Only a few of the casinos have poker tables, and the rooms are very small. When I was at the City of Dreams, only two tables were being used and there was a long waiting list to get on them. So I opted to play on one of the automatic, no-dealer tables, where players are dealt their cards and bet on a video screen.

The Chinese, who make up 95 percent of the gamblers in Macau, love their video machines. There’s so many of them that it sometimes seems like you’re in an arcade instead of a casino. There are video versions of every game, including baccarat, blackjack, roulette, craps and Sic Bo, a popular Asian dice game.

***

While I lost money playing poker, I did have one lucky moment in Macau. When I ordered lunch at the Hard Rock Café, I got a 70 percent discount because I had a credit card with the consecutive numbers 4-3, making me eligible for a promotion celebrating the restaurant’s 43rd anniversary.

Not exactly hitting the lottery, but gamblers like me aren’t picky when it comes to winning numbers.

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Categorised in: China, Gambling, Hong Kong, Macau

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