Macau, a special administrative region of China which borders both the South China Sea and Guangdong province, is today known as “the Monte Carlo of the Orient.” Gambling has been legal in Macau since 1847, when the Portuguese used gaming to increase revenue in what was then a colony. Today, Macau exists in a semi-independent state, with China responsible for Macau’s foreign affairs, but local officials controlling most aspects of Macau’s day-to-day operation.
History of Gambling in Macau
For much of Macau’s history, the gambling industry was run by government-sponsored monopolies. The first of these was established in 1937, when the Tai Xing Company was given full control over gaming in Macau. However, the first real growth in the local gambling industry came when in 1962, when a partnership between businessmen from Hong Kong and Macau known as the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau – better known as STDM – was given the monopoly rights. STDM was successful in modernizing transport routes from Hong Kong, which significantly increased the size and scope of Macau’s casino industry.
This situation lasted until 2002, which the monopoly system was ended and new operators were allowed to establish a presence in Macau. Many of the world’s largest gambling corporations quickly broke into the lucrative market, including MGM Mirage, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, and the Galaxy Entertainment Group. Along with the older STDM casinos, these casinos helped make Macau the world’s largest gambling center, surpassing even the Las Vegas Strip.
Casinos in Macau
Today, there are more than 30 different casinos in Macau, with a mix of Western and traditional Chinese gambling games offered. The biggest game is one that appeals to big spenders around the world: baccarat. In recent years, poker has become more popular, with several casinos offering cash games, some of which reach limits unheard of even in the biggest poker games in Las Vegas casinos. The following is a rundown of many of the major casinos that can be found in Macau.
Casino Grand Lisboa
The Grand Lisboa opened in 2007, right next to the older Hotel Lisboa. It has recently expanded its hotel to a total of 2362 rooms, in large part to compete with the recently opened Wynn Macau, which is next to the Lisboa.
The Lisboa has a large gaming area, which features a total of more than 240 gaming tables spread out over four different floors. The gaming selection will be familiar to anyone who has been to a Las Vegas casino; all the traditional games are available, with even craps and Texas Hold’em poker tables having been added in recent years.
Like much of Macau, there’s a huge emphasis on VIP guests here. There are eight VIP rooms, most of which spread high-limit baccarat for big gamblers who aren’t afraid to throw a lot of money around.
Also notable here is PokerStars Macau, a branded poker room that hosts most of the major tournaments in the city. It’s one of only a few poker rooms in Macau, and definitely one of the best.
Update 2013: – The poker room in the Lisboa has closed since this article was written.
Casa Real Casino
Casa Real is another casino with a Portuguese flavor, owing to Macau’s colonial history. This small hotel (there are fewer than 400 rooms) has one of the newer casinos in town, but it’s also one of the smaller offerings; there are just over 120 slot machines and about 50 table games.
However, the variety of games is reasonably good. You’ll find the ever present baccarat, along with Western favorites and traditional local games like Fan-Tan.
Located right in downtown Taipa, the Grandview Hotel and Casino offers a luxurious gaming experience. The Grandview Casino is right in the hotel lobby, and spaciously fits over 50 gaming tables. On the first floor, you can find the Grandview Slot Machine Hall, which has a small but sufficient number of slot machines and other electronic games. The atmosphere is relaxing, yet elegant.
Grandview also features plenty of special exclusive and semi-private club areas for gamblers looking for a more unique experience, such as the Golden Century VIP Rooms.
Formerly known as Crown Macau, the Altira is a five-star resort that stands as the highest building in Taipa. The lobby on the 38th floor gives a spectacular view of Macau, and every room has full length windows that give similar views. The hotel, while luxurious, is rather small; there are only 216 guest rooms available.
The casino here is enormous, with 220 table games and over 500 slots making it one of the largest casinos in Macau. If you’d like to check out some of the other amenities here, you won’t be disappointed; there’s a two story spa and five great restaurants serving gourmet cuisine from around the world.
Jai Alai Casino
One of the oldest casinos in Macau, the Jai alai is the place to go if you’re looking for dank (or cheap) gaming and lodging. Compared to the luxury resorts that are now commonplace here, the Jai Alai Casino appears run-down and out of place.
That’s not to say that you can’t get your fill of gambling in the casino, though. There are over 200 slots and around 60 table games here, along with four VIP rooms for any whales who decide to play here instead of in more comfortable surroundings. For the most part, though, this is one of the few places in Macau that really appeals to the budget crowd and those who just want to gamble without any frills.
Kam Pek Casino
The Kam Pek Casino is a standalone business without an attached hotel (though there are plenty in the area if you need a place to stay, and a bridge attaches the casino directly to Hotel Lisboa). It’s a small casino, with only a couple dozen tables to play on, but it has a large VIP section that’s usually available by invitation only. The casino itself is rather nice, but the small size means it’s not exactly a must see destination.
The Sands Macau was the first casino opened by a group outside of the traditional monopolies that had dominated Macau for the better part of the last century. The hotel is very small, originally featuring only 51 suites for VIP visitors; this is mainly because the Sands is marketed as a day-trip destination for Chinese gamblers, rather than as a resort hotel. There are now an additional 289 suites that are open to the public, though day- trippers are still the main clientele here.
But the small hotel should not lead you to believe that the casino is small as well. In fact, the Sands Macau is among the largest casino in the world in terms of number of table games, with about 740 tables spread out over three floors dedicated to gaming. There are also over 1,250 slot machines in the 229,000 square foot casino. If anything, some visitors find the casino overwhelming to navigate; there’s certainly no shortage of options.
If you’re looking for a VIP experience, check out the Pearl Room, which has a semi- private feel and hosts an additional 40 table games and 180 slots. The Sands also features Vegas-style restaurant options, including a new version of the Copa Steakhouse, a couple of places offering more contemporary local and Portuguese food choices, and a buffet.
Golden Dragon Casino
A high mid-range hotel (with room prices closer to what you’d expect from a top flight luxury resort), the Golden Dragon is one of the more popular spots among the older STDM-operated casinos. It’s more modern than many of the older casinos that still dot Macau, but certainly looks dated when compared to the newer Western-style casinos that have become the standard here.
The casino is reasonably sized, with nearly 100 table games and over 250 machines for you to try your luck on. Once again, there’s a lot here for VIP visitors – there are 15 special VIP rooms for those who want to gamble in peace (and for a lot of cash).
Greek Mythology Casino
Attached to the New Century Hotel, you might expect there to be a pervasive theme to a casino with a name like this one. Actually, this casino was opened in 2004 by the Greek Mythology Entertainment Group, from which it derived the somewhat awkward name.
The casino itself is one of the larger ones in Macau (currently among the five biggest in terms of gaming options), with several hundred table games and about 100 slots and video poker machines. Most of the table games are (what else?) baccarat, though other games are also available.
MGM Grand Macau
Another of the newer mega-casinos opened by Western gambling corporations, the MGM Grand Macau is actually a joint venture between MGM and Pansy Ho, the daughter of local gambling tycoon Stanley Ho. The hotel opened in 2007 and has 600 rooms available for visitors.
After a recent expansion to a second level, the MGM Grand casino floor features around 345 gaming tables and over 1,000 slot machines. As in many of the larger casinos, the MGM Grand can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming; this is likely due in no small part to the heavy emphasis on table games in Macau, which take up much more room on the casino floor than slot machines.
Steve Wynn is known for his luxurious casino creations in Las Vegas, and the Wynn Macau definitely lives up to that reputation. Opened in 2006, There are now over 1,000 rooms in total in the hotel counting both the Wynn and Encore towers. This is definitely one of the priciest locations in Macau, but with the Wynn name, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
We’ve mentioned the sprawling nature of many of the largest casinos in Macau, so it’s interesting to see that the Wynn tends to avoid this phenomenon. Instead, there are many smaller gaming areas that create a less cluttered, more intimate experience for gamblers. That’s not to say there aren’t an enormous number of gambling options here; there are over 200 table games and nearly 400 slots, with the typical Macau fare (baccarat, sic bo, blackjack, roulette, etc.) dominating the tables. Texas Hold’em games are available here, too.
If you’re looking for the best luxury experience in Macau, it’s hard to go wrong here. There are plenty of additional amenities offered as well, including high-end restaurants, a health club and spa, and a large retail shopping area that features prominent (and expensive) brand stores like Tiffany’s and Armani.
The Venetian Macau
The Sands owns and operates The Venetian as well, which has become the biggest attraction on the Cotai Strip. Unlike many of the major hotel-casinos in Macau, the Venetian definitely has put some emphasis on the hotel part of the equation; there are 3,000 suites here, making it a hub for tourists interested in more than just a day trip.
The complex as a whole is enormous; it’s the largest hotel in Asia, and by area, the fifth- largest building in the entire world. In addition to the hotel and casino, there are huge expanses of over 1 million square feet each devoted to a convention center and retail shopping, along with a 15,000 seat arena that can host major sports and music events.
And, of course, there’s a casino here. The massive, 550,000 square foot casino floor contains 3,400 slots and over 800 table games. Baccarat is, as always, the main attraction; however, you’ll find an excellent variety here, with most of the popular Western table games available in large numbers, as well as plenty of traditional Asian games too. This is also one of the few casinos offering live-dealer poker – mostly Texas Hold’em.
The Babylon Casino is a midsized casino that’s next to a small hotel known as The Rocks. Located at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf, it is conveniently located nearby the Hong Kong ferry terminal. There are about 100 table games that cover just about any game you could possibly want to play, plus around 120 slot machines.
Compared to the big resorts, there isn’t a lot here; the lack of a dedicated hotel also means you’ll have to leave the casino in order to have a decent meal. However, it’s certainly sizable enough for a visit, especially if you’re planning to check out Fisherman’s Wharf and want to stay away from the crowded resorts in the area. It’s convenient to just about anything you need near the ferry, too.
Grand Emperor Casino
Opened in 2006, the Grand Emperor Hotel and Casino features a boatload of gaming, as well as one of the cooler things you’ll ever see upon entering a casino: gold bars inlayed into the lobby floor. Okay, so you can’t take those home, but it’s still a pretty grand show of opulence.
The hotel is designed with luxury in mind, with a theme reminiscent of a British palace (including a daily “Changing of the Guard” ceremony/show). The standard guestrooms are gorgeously adored with regal colors and come with all the amenities you’d expect from any high-end hotel; the suites are, of course, even nicer, though you’ll have to spend a lot to stay here.
The casino actually spans a total of six floors, though you’ll need to be a high-spending VIP to gain access to the top two levels. One floor is devoted to slot machines, while the rest of the casino is covered in table games – in this case, that mainly means baccarat. Overall, the casino is geared more towards Asian gamblers rather than Western tourists.
Once upon a time, the Fortuna Casino was a waterfront destination that catered mainly to Chinese gamblers. As more and more land has been reclaimed, the Fortuna now sits five blocks away from the ocean, but their emphasis on serving Chinese visitors is still intact. Of course, they’re open to tourists from around the world, and the hotel is actually a great value for tourists who want comfortable rooms at an affordable price.
If you want to play in the casino, though, you’d better like baccarat. There are about 35 gaming tables here, and they are packed in tight; the vast majority at any given time are playing baccarat, though you might find a blackjack game or two on occasion. There are also a few slot machines, but like most of Macau, this place definitely focuses on table games.
One of four Galaxy casinos here in Macau, this one is a mid-range hotel/casino that looks attractive from the outside, but doesn’t have too much flash in the building. There are around 450 rooms, most of which are fairly affordable and clean, if not particularly noteworthy.
The Rio Casino features about 80 gaming tables and 150 slot machines (plus a few VIP rooms), with an emphasis on baccarat. However, there is plenty of blackjack to be found, along with roulette tables as well, so it’s not completely dominated by Macau’s baccarat obsession. One thing worth mentioning is that, according to most who have been there, this isn’t a popular spot for English-speaking visitors; most of the traffic comes from
Galaxy Starworld is one of the most popular casinos in Macau, attracting both Western and Chinese visitors in droves. It opened in 2006, and is located right next to the Wynn, making a potent combination on Avenida de Amizade. There are just over 500 rooms, all of which are fairly luxurious. The Starworld also has a reputation for having an excellent and responsive staff.
Along with having nearly 250 tables and 500 slot machines, Starworld is also one of the few casinos to offer live poker games – including, on occasion, the ridiculously high- limit tables that attract professional players and rich businessmen looking for thrills. In fact, Starworld was the first casino in Macau to offer any form of poker, though originally, it utilized electronic PokerTek tables.
There has been one complaint against the Starworld that we’ve seen a lot of: apparently, the casino reeks of smoke. If the smell of smoke bothers you, this is probably a place to avoid.
Galaxy Waldo Hotel and Casino
The Galaxy Waldo is a fairly small casino, though renovations in 2007 did increase the size somewhat. There are now around 160 rooms available in this mid-priced hotel which is located near the ferry terminal.
The main casino takes up two floors, with about 60 gaming tables – once again, mostly baccarat with a smattering of other games – and around 100 slot machines. There are several options for VIP players too, including the Premium Baccarat Room and several semi-private rooms on separate floors. Generally, the casino doesn’t cater to Western tourists; it’s more a place for Chinese mainland visitors.
Grand Waldo Casino
Out on the Cotai Strip (and soon to be joined by the Galaxy Macau next door), the Grand Waldo is Galaxy’s first entry into the flashy strip area. There are only slightly over 300 rooms available here, but they are definitely on the luxury side; there are two dozen VIP Suites surrounded by a rooftop garden for those really looking to experience Macau in style.
Like the other Waldo Casino, this one is definitely designed with the high roller in mind. However, it’s large enough to also contain around 100 table games in the general gambling area, along with plenty of slots and other machine games. For VIP players, there are decorated suites on different floors that allow them to stay away from the noise from all the commoners on the main floor.
Pharaoh’s Palace Casino/Legend Club (Landmark Hotel)
The Landmark Hotel on the Avenida de Amizade is host to two different casinos: the Pharoh’s Palace, which has an Egyptian theme, and the Legend Club. The hotel itself has around 450 rooms, including several luxury suites that are even more expensive than the already pricy standard rooms.
The Pharaoh’s Palace has about 100 table games and nearly 400 slots on a relatively small and crowded casino floor, while the Legend Club adds another dozen tables and about 100 slots. Baccarat is once again the big attraction, but blackjack and other games can be found too. One controversial feature here is their “members only” policy that requires a membership in order to play in the casino. Alone, that wouldn’t be such a big deal; however, you’ll need to present a passport in order to become a member, which some visitors may not be comfortable doing.
Ponte 16 Casino
Located on the edge of the Inner Harbor, Ponte 16 is one of the newest hotel casinos in Macau, having opened in 2008. This luxury five-star resort features 389 rooms in total, along with 19 apartments, all of which are outfitted with top-of-the-line amenities. There are some really unique things here, too, including the MJ Gallery – described as “the first and only Michael Jackson Gallery in Asia.” If you want to see some interesting memorabila from the King of Pop’s career, this is the place to go!
The casino is massive, with over 270,000 square feet of gaming. Unlike some of the other large casinos, Ponte 16 has used this size to make itself spacious, rather than cram as many tables as possible onto the floor; there are 109 tables along with 300 slot machines, plus a couple of VIP-only halls for visiting whales.
City of Dreams Casino
At the time of this writing, the City of Dreams is the newest addition to the Cotai Strip, having opened in the summer of 2009. There are three separate hotels contained in the facility, including a Hard Rock Hotel, a Crown Towers Hotel, and the two-tower Grand Hyatt Macau. There’s no shortage of things to do in the City of Dreams, even if you’re not a gambler; there are two levels of retail space in an area known as “The Boulevard,” the world’s largest in-the-round water show in the new Dragone Theatre, and a huge projection show known as The Dragon’s Treasure.” Despite all the attractions, however, this isn’t one of the most luxurious spots in Macau; it’s geared to a wider audience, albeit one that’s willing to spend a decent amount of money while they’re here.
Of course, there’s no shortage of gaming in the City of Dreams either. The 420,000 square foot casino features 550 table games and around 1,500 slots and other machine games. There’s a pretty heavy emphasis on popular Asian games (would you be shocked to hear that baccarat is the most prominent offering?), but with the size of the casino, you can find just about anything if you look hard enough. The Hard Rock Hotel also features one of the few poker rooms in Macau, and is sometimes known to host extremely high- limit cash games.