Off the top of my head, if someone were to ask me the top 5 cities in the world for gambling I would say Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Monte Carlo, London, and Paris.

The thought of a former Portuguese colony on the southern coast of China would have never entered my mind.

But it should have.

In 2017, Macau’s gaming revenue exceeded $33 billion for the year. Analysts expect that to increase for 2018.

Background and History of Macau

Macau is 40 miles southeast of Hong Kong. It became a popular port for trade in the 1500s, especially with the Portuguese.

By the 1560s Portugal had established Macau as their main trading port in the Far East. It became the hub for trading with not only the rest of China but India and Japan as well.
Over the next few centuries, Portuguese immigration increased to the point where settlers were asking China for self-administration.

In 1887, China officially ceded Macau to Portugal. Macau was then considered an official territory of the Portuguese Empire.

About 100 years later, Portuguese and Chinese leaders would meet and agree that Portugal would turn Macau back to Chinese control as of December 20, 1999. As part of the agreement, China agreed to leave the local government
system in place for 50 years. It was a similar agreement to the one China had made with the United Kingdom regarding the reintegration of Hong Kong.

Macau is now known as the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and is an autonomous region in the country.

In 1850, the territorial government approved legalized gambling in Macau. They set up a licensing process for gambling houses (called fantan). This was an effort to raise revenue by the Portuguese territory.

By 1900, over 200 fantan houses had been established. Each paying the territory gambling rent and taxes on revenue.

Until the mid-20th century, traditional Chinese games were the only ones played in Macau gambling houses. Among the most common of these games were:

  • Fan-tan – A roulette-style game that was the most popular game in Chinese gambling culture until the mid-1900s. The gambling houses were named after this game.
  • Tein Gow – Games that were played either with dice or a 32 Chinese dominoes. The game Pai Gow was based on it.
  • Pai Gow – A domino game where the goal is to arrange the pips on the tiles to achieve totals of 9.
  • Khanhoo – A card game similar to the Western card game Rummy.
  • Mahjong – A tile game that’s still popular in both Chinese and Western casinos today. Like Khanhoo, it has similarities to the western card game Rummy.
  • Six Tiger – A card game where each player is dealt 12 cards and the winner is the first to down 6 winning cards. The game is also known as Hakka Plate of Luk Fu.

The advent of Western-style gaming came to Macau in the 1960s when the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) the sole rights to all gambling in Macau. The STDM was a joint venture between businessmen from Hong Kong and Macau.

Starting in 1962, the STDM began to modernize the transportation between Macau and Hong Kong. The cities are 40 miles apart and are separated by the mouth of the South China Sea.

At the same time, they start introducing Western games into the casinos. These 2 factors started bringing in millions of gamblers from Hong Kong (which was an English controlled territory) each year.

The arrangement would continue until 2001.

In 2002, the Macau government, no longer under Portuguese control, ended the exclusivity that the STDM enjoyed and issued licenses over the following few years to Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM, an 80% owned subsidiary of STDM), Galaxy Entertainment Group, Wynn Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands.

The STDM still exists in Macau and owns 16 of the area’s casinos.

Gambling accounts for 70% of the tax revenue for the Macau government and is 40% of the gross domestic product for the region.

Relationship with Hong Kong

Hong Kong is 40 miles east of Macau across the South China Sea. The bulk of visitors to Macau for gambling come from or through Hong Kong.

Much like Macau, Hong Kong was an independent entity from China and ruled by the United Kingdom until 1997. Macau and Hong Kong operate as Special Administrative Regions of China and have a great deal of autonomy in the everyday operations of the city.

Gambling has been regulated in Hong Kong since 1977. The law allows for a limited amount of gambling outlets and they can only be for leisure or entertainment.

The following types of gambling are considered illegal in Hong Kong:

  • Gambling involving a bookmaker
  • Betting in a place other than a licensed gambling establishment
  • Street (back alley) games or wagering

The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) holds a government licensed monopoly on horse races, football matches, and lotteries. The income the club generates makes it the largest taxpayer for the region.

During the 2014-2015 racing season, the Hong Kong Jockey Club attracted about HK$138.8 million (US$17.86 million) per race more than any other track in the world. This resulted in them paying the government a record-breaking HK$21.7 billion in duty and profits tax.

Over the years, Hong Kong and Macau developed a mutually beneficial relationship regarding gambling. This is largely a result of the work of the STDM.

The Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM)

Macau businessman Stanley Ho and some of his family members enlisted the aid of businessmen in Hong Kong and Macau to westernize the gambling operations in Macau. In 1962 the STDM was formed and won the exclusive gaming licenses for Macau.

Ho realized that simply having the monopoly on gaming in Macau and added western games wasn’t enough to make the venture successful. Some of this had been tried by the previous licensee, the Tai Hing Company, and for 28 years they weren’t successful in building the industry.

Ho knew he needed Hong Kong. This is why he brought on businessmen from the region. The idea was to improve transportation options of the 40 mile stretch of the South China Sea that divides the 2 regions. Then Macau could act as an enhancement to Hong Kong tourism and by having tourist travel the 40 miles to enjoy the new Western-style games Macau was offering.

To make this a reality, the STDM invested in aviation.

To start, Ho invested in the low-budget start-up airline Air Macau. A company of Ho’s owns a 30% stake in the company.

This took 20 years for Ho to finally get established, but the company now has services to 24 destinations including:

  • Mainland China
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Philippines
  • Thailand
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam

It also business arrangements with 6 other Asian carriers to bring in passengers from other destinations.

To capitalize on the fact that Macau was the biggest gambling city in the world, Ho wanted to attract high rollers, so he had the STDM invest in a private passenger jet company Jet Asia.

In 2002, the SDTM lost its exclusivity rights in Macau. But they still are the largest casino enterprise in the region and continue to grow. SDTM accounts for about half of the gambling revenue that comes into Macau.
A partial list of the SDTM and its subsidiaries own are:

  • Canidrome
  • Casa Real Hotel
  • Grand Emperor Hotel
  • Grand Lisboa
  • Grandview
  • Greek Mythology Casino
  • Hotel Fortaleza do Guincho
  • Hotel Fortuna
  • Hotel Golden Dragon
  • Hotel Lisboa
  • Hotel Sintra
  • Jet Asia
  • Lisboa Palace
  • Macau Golf and Country Club.
  • Macau International Airport 31% interest
  • Mandarin Oriental Macau
  • New Yaohan Department Store
  • Pousada de Sao Tiago
  • President Hotel
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Macau)
  • Tiger Slots
  • Westin Resort Macau

Casinos in Macau

Today Macau has nearly 30 casinos. Most are operated by the SJM or their parent corporation the STDM. All are licensed by Macau’s licensing authority the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau.
Casinos in Macau feature a unique mix of popular Western games along with some traditional Chinese games. In most casinos you’ll find:

Since 2008, live-dealer poker cash games were introduced to Macau. This was preceded by a few events:

  • The Galaxy Starwood Casino introduced electronic poker games in August 2007.
  • The Asia Pacific Poker Tour made the first appearance in Macau in November 2007. This was the first live poker tournament in Macau.
  • The Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau released official region approved rules for Texas hold ‘em allowing casinos to officially introduce the game to patrons.

So as you can see casinos and gambling tourism is huge for Macau. I went through and found information on the latest casinos in the area. Here’s what I discovered:

  • Altira Macau – The casino offers 550 slot machines and 220 table games. The size of the casino floor is 173,000 square feet.
  • Babylon Casino Fisherman’s Wharf – The casino offers 25 slot machines and 55 table games and a 5 table poker room. The size of the casino floor is 50,000 square feet.
  • Casa Real Casino – The casino offers 123 slot machines and 53 table games. The size of the casino floor is 36,000 square feet.
  • Casino Crystal Palace at Hotel Lisboa – The casino offers 36 slot machines. The size of the casino floor is 14,100 square feet.
  • Casino Lisboa – The casino offers 107 slot machines and 146 table games. The size of the casino floor is 190,000 square feet.
  • Casino Macau Palace – The casino offers 51 slot machines and 12 table games. The size of the casino floor is 11,120 square feet.
  • Casino Oceanus – The casino offers 569 slot machines and269table games. The size of the casino floor is 345,000 square feet (over 3 floors).
  • City of Dreams – The casino offers 1500 slot machines and 550 table games. The size of the casino floor is 420,000 square feet.
  • Diamond Casino at Holiday Inn – The casino offers 34 slot machines and 60 table games. The size of the casino floor is 6,000 square feet.
  • Emperor Palace Casino – The casino offers 365 slot machines, 64 table games, and 8 VIP halls. The size of the casino floor is 50,000 square feet over 3 floors.
  • Fortuna Casino – The casino offers no slot machines and 48 table games. The size of the casino floor is 17,000 square feet.
  • Galaxy Cotai Mega Resort, Cotai – The casino offers 1500 slot machines, 650 table games, and a poker room with 30 tables. The size of the casino floor is 400,000 square feet.
  • Galaxy Rio Casino – The casino offers 150 slot machines and 90 table games. The size of the casino floor is 36,000 square feet.
  • Galaxy Starworld – The casino offers 371 slot machines and 300 table games. The size of the casino floor is 140,000 square feet.
  • Golden Dragon Casino – The casino offers 140 slot machines, 120 electronic gaming machines, 100 table games, and 15 VIP rooms. The size of the casino floor is 73,000 square feet over 3 floors.
  • Grand Lapa Hotel – The casino offers 59 slot machines and 11 table games. The size of the casino floor is 12,000 square feet.
  • Grandview Casino – The casino offers 220 slot machines and 15 table games. The size of the casino floor is 12,000 square feet.
  • Jai Alai Casino – The casino offers 98 slot machines and 35 table games. The size of the casino floor is 67,000 square feet.
  • Kam Pek Casino – The casino offers 800 slot machines and 37 table games. The size of the casino floor is 172,000 square feet.
  • MGM Macau – The casino offers 1,145 slot machines and 400 table games. The size of the casino floor is 285,000 square feet.
  • Macau Jockey Club (MJC) Casino, Taipa – The casino offers no slot machines and 19 table games and 2 VIP rooms. The size of the casino floor is 16,000 square feet.
  • Pharaoh’s Palace Casino – The casino offers 383 slot machines, 109 table games, and 5 VIP rooms. The size of the casino floor is 190,000 square feet.
  • Ponte 16 – The casino offers 300 slot machines, 109 table games, and 2 VIP rooms. The size of the casino floor is 270,000 square feet.
  • Sands Macao – The casino offers 1,000 slot machines and 200 table games. The size of the casino floor is 250,000 square feet.
  • The Legend Club – The casino offers 108 slot machines and 12 table games. The size of the casino floor is 15,000 square feet.
  • The Venetian Macao, Cotai Strip – The casino offers 2.000 slot machines, 650 table games, and a poker room with 30 tables. The size of the casino floor is 600,000 square feet.
  • Wynn Macau – The casino offers 1.000 slot machines, 495 table games, and a poker room with 11 tables. The size of the casino floor is 246,000 square feet.

Mocha Clubs

Melco Resorts & Entertainment offers 7 Mocha Clubs throughout Macau. These clubs are all electronic interactive gaming parlors that provide a unique gaming experience to the players. They also serve coffee at these clubs. So it’s like a Starbucks with slot machines.

In a Mocha Club, you’re not playing for money. You use a membership card and get comp points. These comps can range from a free sandwich at McDonald’s to free computers and hardware.

You also have the ability to win free money for playing. In essence, you get free credits that can be used to continue playing.

The clubs are divided into slot machines and electronic table games.

The clubs have a wide selection of slot machines. They provide 3, 5, 6, and 7 reel slots. They have a mix of both stand-alone and progressive jackpot slot machines. The slots start at 10 Hong Kong cents.

The Mocha Clubs have been adding electronic table games at a rapid pace. Depending on the location you can find:

  • Roulette
  • Baccarat
  • Sic Bo
  • Blackjack
  • Bingo
  • Keno

Most Mocha Clubs are hidden away and don’t have a lot of signage outside of the building, but locations can be found on their website.

Horse Racing and Greyhound Racing

Casinos aren’t the only opportunity to gamble in Macau. The option for betting on horse and dog racing is available for everyone over the age of 18.

Horse racing is usually available on Tuesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays. With almost 5 million square feet of space, the Macau Jockey Club can seat 18,000 visitors. The club sees over 5 million visitors each year.

The Macau Jockey Club has several options for betting. Bettors can utilize:

  • On-course betting – The Macau Jockey Club has over 20 betting terminals on site. All terminals can perform sell and pay functions. People may bet in Hong Kong dollars or Macau patacas. Bets are accepted up to the start of each race. Bettors may place a bet by telling the cashier or by filling out a ticket.
  • Off-course betting – Over 80 betting terminals exist in the off-course betting centers. 14 off-course betting centers are located in popular districts of Macau and Taipa.
  • Internet betting – The option to bet via the internet started in 2003. Customers can get instructions on how to bet, place bets and get other information on Macau Jockey Club’s website.
  • Telephone services – Gamblers may choose to bet at one of the many telephone service terminals. Tens of thousands use this method and have “telebet” accounts. Winnings may be automatically transferred to bettor’s bank account.
  • Fast Access Terminals – Personal betting terminal, known as Fast Access Terminals (FAT) offer the ability to bet as well as many other functions including odds calculation and keeping a bet history for the bettor. Like the phone service, winners can have winning transferred to their bank accounts.
  • Hong Kong Service Centers – For those in Hong Kong that wish to bet races at the Macau Jockey Club, 3 service centers are located in Hong Kong including the Sheung Wan Service Center, the Mongkok Service Center, and the Shaukeiwan Service Center.

For those who wish to bet on the greyhounds, races take place at the Canidrome. Races are held every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission to the Canidrome is 10 Macau patacas.

Those wishing to bet can do so inside the greyhound racing center, or in off-course betting centers located in the Kam Pek Casino, Hotel Lisboa, and Jai-Alai Palace.


It is easy to see why Macau is known as the Monte Carlo of the East. It generates more gambling income than any other city in the world.

Gambling is the main revenue generator in the region. And it’s only growing. In the past, several older and smaller casinos have closed down. Some of these have been in operation since the 1960s and were heavily skewed towards traditional Chinese gaming.

Some of these casinos have reopened with modern themes and a majority of Western games. Some are still in the process and others are following the lead on Las Vegas where several older, smaller casinos were torn down to make way for monolithic, state of the art properties.

If you’re in North America and are considering going over to Macau, while it may be expensive to fly to Macau, you can enjoy the area on a budget. The cost of living is 25% to 50% lower than some cities in the US. A typical meal will cost around $7.00. A fast food meal will run about $4 or $5.

Since the monopoly was broken in 2002, major resorts and gaming corporations have set up shop in Macau. This is a great benefit to Western travelers because they’re familiar with Western culture, so it avoids international incidents and misunderstandings.

It also helps because it brings more English speaking people into the area to make it palatable for Americans, Canadians, Australians, British, and English speaking ex-pats in Hong Kong. Additionally, these major companies have a worldwide presence and have rewards programs that can be used as easily in Macau as they can be in Las Vegas.

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