GAMBLER Cao Yanglin let his lunch go cold as he talked about his spree at the baccarat tables in Macau.
The Grand Lisboa Casino in Macau attracts boards of gamblers from China who take few breaks, leading some to wonder if Las Vegas-style resort facilities hold any attraction to them. — AP
The 58-year-old property developer said he won US$3,840 ($5,800) at the Las Vegas-style Wynn Macau casino hotel, then lost US$7,680 at the Grand Lisboa.
But he was more interested in talking about how Macau would profit from the increasingly wealthy Chinese who have a reputation for wagering more than Americans.
‘I’ve been to Macau more than 10 times and I’ve even been to Vegas,’ said Mr Cao. ‘They need to have more baccarat tables there.’
It’s gamblers like Mr Cao who have helped Macau bump off Las Vegas as the world’s gambling centre.
The city raked in US$6.95b in gambling revenue last year, while the Las Vegas made US$6.69b, regulators in both cities said.
Macau says it’s just getting started. More casinos, malls, convention centres, resorts and thousands of hotel rooms are being built in the city, which has a population of just over 500,000.
Casino operators say they’re certain that booming China will get even richer and millions of new gamblers will flood into the casinos.
They plan to follow the same blueprint that successfully transformed Las Vegas from a seedy casino town to a global hot spot for dining, shows, conventions and shopping.
‘Macau is the safest bet on Earth,’ US casino tycoon Steve Wynn, who opened his US$1.2b Wynn Macau resort in September.
But some analysts warn of risks.
China could suffer political upheaval an economic meltdown. New gambling resorts in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia could lure away visitors. Or the shoppers, convention attendees and families just might not show up as they did in Las Vegas.
‘I think things could get pretty ugly there pretty fast,’ said Mr Matt Hoult, a portfolio manager at ABN AMRO Asset Management. He predicts Macau is facing a glut in hotel rooms.
Macau’s dreary side is easy to find. Beautiful buildings are far outnumbered by drab apartment blocks. In the old casino district, streets are lined with small stores illuminated with headache-inducing lights crammed with gaudy jewellery.
In the late 1990s, gangs waged turf wars with drive-by shootings, kidnappings and car bombs that scared away tourists.
The violence mostly ended after the 1999 handover.
But the biggest change was the Chinese government ending Mr Stanley Ho’s 40-year monopoly and allowing foreign developers to move in. The newcomers have created a big new buzz that has produced spectacular growth numbers.
Online Casino Singapore revenue has more than doubled to US$6.95b since 2002. Visitor arrivals hit a record high of almost 22 million last year.
Much of that extra money and tourist traffic is ending up in Mr Ho’s casinos.
‘We have an expression in Chinese,’ said machinist Wu Haihua as he gambled at Mr Ho’s Grand Lisboa.