Business, Economics and Jobs

China's gambling mecca now trumps Vegas


This view from the Macau Tower shows casinos in the central district Macau on December 20, 2009 as the former Portuguese enclave marks ten years of Chinese rule, capping a decade that has seen its transformation from seedy colonial backwater to global gaming hub rivalling the Las Vegas Strip.


Ed Jones

Just seven years ago, the China-adminsitered island of Macau had just one casino.

These days, as The Guardian points out, "Las Vegas is puny in comparison."

In case you haven't noticed, journalists love scaring their readers to death. And nothing scares Western readers more these days than fears that China is uncontrollably growing bigger, better and faster.

Maybe that's why neither the Guardian nor the Washington Post could resist pieces on Macau's recent gambling explosion. As the Post observes, Macau's gambling now surpasses the cash gambled in Vegas. It's up to $23.5 billion and that's up 60 percent from last year.

Why are so many Chinese flocking to the bright lights of Macau, the nation's only territory that allows gambling?

The Post reports a "country awash with cash after a lending blowout by Chinese banks… a frenzied pursuit of quick profit… a financial system that penalizes ordinary savers." The Guardian quotes a Chinese analyst that says "maybe it's in our genes."

Then there's the local Macau Daily Times report that says the boom is driven by "surging demand from the high-roller VIP segment -- especially baccarat."

For those who don't enjoy casinos, take my word for it: baccarat is the dullest card game on the floor. Why would rich men, with untold pleasures at their disposal, travel to play a card game scarcely more exciting than a coin flip?

Because it has slightly better odds. China's gamers are "not rational, but they're not stupid: they know mathematics," an analyst told the Post.

Vegas may never erase Macau's lead. But at least lucky players can leave town with whatever they earn. In Macau, Chinese winners have to illegally circumvent a law that forbids leaving the island with more than $50,000 in winnings.