- Nick Burgess
Macau - The Secret Gambling World for Millionaires
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
Welcome to this week's "Millionaire Lifestyle" where I cover the secret world of the rich and famous. This week, we're digging into the secretive gambling island of Macau in Southeast Asia to see what really goes on there. Let's go!
If you saw the title and clicked on this, chances are that you gamble. You've also probably been to Las Vegas, maybe even a few times. You've had the Eiffel Tower dinner, you've seen the fake Statue of Liberty and gambled away a few dollars at the Planet Hollywood War table before throwing your final pennies at the slot machines in the airport's Terminal 2. Now, you're looking for a new challenge. Well can I interest you in the secretive island nation of Macau?
What is Macau?
Macau is a tiny two-island chain nation that is located off the south coast of China. Originally rented out as a Portuguese colony in 1557 (seriously), the Portuguese would pay a leasing fee to China in exchange for the land, which they held us a trade route on the other side of the world. The lease continued until 1999 when it was reclaimed by China under the "one country, two systems" policy, effectively giving the region autonomy by declaring it a "special administrative region."
Under the SAR agreement with China, the region has flourished. It's the most densely populated country in the world, containing 680,000 people in it's 13 square mile island. It also has a per capita GDP income rate that is rivaled only by Monaco, and it also has one of the highest life expediencies in the world. The country's history has also appealed to NGO's like UNESCO, who declared its city center a World Heritage Site in 2005. But there is one main reason that people flock to Macau from all around the world: gambling.
The Gambling Scene
Gambling in Macau is generally thought about as something you pick up through whispers. It's a secretive, foreign nation to westerners, so we really don't see it as accessible, unless it's through that one scene in Skyfall.
In reality, Macau is the world's foremost gambling authority. Its casino industry is seven times larger than Las Vegas by revenue, despite the total landmass of Macau being about the same size as The Strip. Enough, in fact, to account for 40% of the country's total GDP. So which casinos are located on the peninsula which generates so much cash? Is it Chinese-owned companies that decided to own the island in order to generate bundles of money? Nope! It's American companies in culturally appropriated set dressing.
The third biggest operator in the region is Las Vegas Sands, extending their influence out to Asia with their Venetian brand which is the largest casino in the region, "The Venetian Macau," and business is good - typically. 2020 obviously brought the challenge of the casinos having to close, but the area was thriving up until then. Statista has charted the revenue of the area's casino scene in the last decade, and it's....a lot.
They're also big into the ponies in the SAR, with the island of Taipa housing the biggest horse racing operation in the world, employing over 1,400 people. Sorry Churchill Downs.
The Americans Are Coming
As noted earlier, some of the biggest operators in the area are American. Las Vegas Sands, MGM and Wynn actually generate more than half of their revenue from Macau-based operations, which isn't typically how we think of their money coming in. This is important now due to the pandemic. While the U.S struggles to get control of the delta variant and deals with vaccination issues, China's numbers seem to be better and better. They appear to have a stranglehold on the virus, and casinos are opening at faster rates, bringing back the potential of increased revenue for Las Vegas-based gaming operators. We're already seeing a sort of rebound, with year-to-date gaming revenue in Macau 70% higher in a year over year comparison, already clocking in nearly $8 billion.
Let's say you want to be a part of this gaming resurgence. Getting to Macau is actually much easier than you might expect, in normal times at least. You can usually fly there directly from another major Asian hub like Beijing, Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur. The international airport in Macau is incredibly busy for its size, even blasting past its 6 million person design capacity, and now services over 10 million people per year. If you decide not to fly in, then there are ferries to take you directly to the islands, depending on where you're staying and what you're doing.
The Bottom Line
Macau is fascinating. It's a foreign, secretive destination halfway around the world that essentially plays the same as Vegas, just in a smaller package. This one is on my bucket list for sure. How about you? Let me know in the comments below! And don't forget to sign up for my email list so you never miss a post.