Macau and China are literally neighbors, but worlds apart when it comes to lifestyle and culture. They even share a 310-meter land border. This densely populated little island is home to some of the most expensive hotel casinos in the world and its laissez-faire attitude toward gambling, partying and even prostitution attract a large amount of Chinese mainlanders, people from Hong Kong, and even international visitors who are ready to blow off steam and spend some cash at the table.
In fact, Macau’s economy is largely based on gambling, tourism and shopping. Macau is the gambling mecca of Asia and has even surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues. Many Las Vegas casino owners have cottoned on and there are a number of American owned casinos cashing in, such as the MGM Grand, the Venetian, and the Sands Macao.
Beautiful by night, Macau literally shines
This is opposed to its neighbor, China, where legal casinos don’t exist. Gambling is China is illegal under Chinese law, although the Chinese government does allow its citizens to gamble on lotteries – a far cry from the gambling goliath, that is Macau. There is no place in China to throw down a bet on a game of blackjack around a table and if you find one, it’s illegal.
Macau, on the other hand, has had legal gambling since the 1850’s, since the Portuguese government pushed through a bill to legalize gambling. This has since held strong to this very day, making it now known as the gambling capital of the world. In fact, gambling revenues makes up a whopping 50 percent of the economy. If you walk down the street in any direction, you’re bound to pass one of Macau’s 38 casinos. They’re big, brightly lit and luxurious, a true drawcard. The Venetian Macao is the biggest, standing 39 stories high and is 10.5 million square foot in area. Needless to say, it’s pretty easy to get lost in there!
You can compare that to China’s underground clandestine rackets. They don’t even equate. The casinos and the casino games are worlds apart – that’s if you can even find one and if you’re willing to risk trouble with the law. It’s a bit of a no brainer! If you want to gamble, Macau is only just over 100 kilometers south east of the Chinese mainland.
But how has Macau thrived and turned into such a gambling King Kong?
Well it all started back in the 1850’s, when the Portuguese government saw the potential revenue to be raised from taxing legalized gambling. Although back then, they were called gambling houses and far from the mega structures of opulence that stand today.
Macau has remained that way and even though it is now known as a Chinese city, gambling is fully legal. Macau has also maintained its independence with commercial and financial affairs and doesn’t even share the same currency as China. Macau uses Hong Kong dollars and the Macanese Pataca which match each other dollar for dollar. Or dollar for Pataca I should say! The Pataca was introduced to Macau by the Portuguese who renamed the Mexican dollars in circulation in the region in the 19th century.
The Macau government allowed a gambling monopoly to be controlled by a group of Hong Kong and Macau businessmen from 1962 to 2001, until they realized there was more money to be made if they opened up the market and allowed competition to enter the race. More casinos were built and more tourists flocked to Macau. They poured in in droves from mainland China to get their gambling fix and run footloose and fancy free with the wolves, far from their oppressed life, a mere blink of an eye away. Yes, worlds apart.
Let me give you some perspective on the differences in gambling laws on these two neighboring countries. On the mainland, citizens are not allowed to bet on cards, mahjong or any other unofficial lottery, but that’s not to say they don’t. It is estimated that three trillion Yen is spent on illegal gambling in China each year. The Chinese government have banned all online poker apps and it’s illegal to gamble online but still the diehard gamblers try to find a way.
China may control Macau, but they have been smart enough to leave the gambling laws intact which I dare say is a great revenue earner for the government. These neighboring countries could not be any more different if they tried. Macau with its bright lights and lavish lifestyle and then you have China holding on to its traditional ways and values.
One can’t help but that think it’s a clever move by the Chinese government to keep all the gambling and debauchery in one area, an area where it can be monitored and not interfere with the traditional values of the otherwise very strict nation.
Overall these countries are both great places to visit for totally different reasons. China has a depth of history and culture that is still maintained to this very day. You can see it the architecture, you can taste it in the food and feel it in air. On the other hand, Macau is a lot younger and has been a city on the commercial and financial rise, allowing its tourism and economy to grow by presenting itself to world as a gambling giant filled with lavish buildings, boutique restaurants and enough esoteric lights to make an acid trip look a stroll in the park.