Add up all the money wagered in Las Vegas in a week, and you’ll only equal a day’s worth of gambling in Macau. Where’s Macau? It’s on China’s southern coast just an hour or so by ferry from Hong Kong. And it’s the only place in China where gambling is legal.
When I first visited Macau decades ago, it was a sleepy Portuguese colony with not much to see and a single casino where it took blackjack dealers five minutes to deal every hand because dealers liked to pause to chat with each other. There were spittoons everywhere, and a big meter on the wall measured the strength of monsoons; when it hit the number seven, it was time for everyone to rush out to catch the ferry safely back to Hong Kong.
Portugal has returned Macau to the Chinese. Now there are 35 casinos crammed into 11 square miles with more huge resort casino projects under construction, and the government has decreed that there be more emphasis on fine dining and entertainment. As Atlantic City prays that this November’s introduction of legal, on-line gambling will rescue it, and as Vegas slowly returns from the recession, Macau’s GNP leaps 14% a year.
Check out the bright lights next time you’re in Hong Kong.