Est.: Aug. 28, 2007
Gambling History of Macau
Last update: August 28, 2007
Gambling information in Macau is quickly outdated, which is the main reason I developed this site. Remember the casino scene in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun? Players were shoulder to shoulder, struggling for space to make a bet. Players on the second floor put their bets in cups and ropes were used to ferry money between the players and the sic bo table below. That was filmed at the Macau Palace, which today is a lonely place. When I went there on a weekday morning I believe there was only one player.
From what I'm told, before Stanley Ho's monopoly ended in 2002, Macau was really like that. Today, there are a lot more casinos, and it is easy to have a table to yourself at just a HK$ 100 minimum, which is about $13 U.S. Some casinos even have HK$ 50 minimums. Gambling is usually done in Hong Kong dollars, but some casinos also accept the Macau Pataca. There are ATM's and currency exchange places all over Macau, to make it as easy as possible for you to hit the tables.
Baccarat is the overwhelming game of choice in Macau, followed roughly equally by blackjack and sic bo, with Caribbean Stud Poker coming in fourth. I've been to casinos is several countries all over the world, and the mechanics are always more or less the same. Macau is no different. If you have gambled in any casino before, you'll be ready. If not, please read my section on gambling etiquette, in my companion site, Wizard of Odds.
The vast majority of gamblers in Macau are from China. Many are just there for the day, and there to do some serious gambling. I'm not sure if it for that reason, or that Macau people are unsociable, or both, but the dealers don't say much. Not even a greeting or a good-bye, in Macau the gambling is not thought of as entertainment, as it is in the U.S., but as down to business gambling.
There is spotty beverage service to players. Usually somebody pushes around a cart with tea, coffee, and soft drinks, from table to table. At other times, somebody will come around once in a while to take drink requests. Most players still ask for something from the same unholy caffeinated trinity. Once at the Wynn I asked for a beer. The girl acted like she had never had such a request before, but a few minutes later she appeared with one. At other places, when I made the same request, I was told I would have to go to the bar and buy one. Unlike the U.S., in Macau drinking and gambling do not seem to be correlated sins. However, smoking is correlated with everything in Macau, Hong Kong, and China. Barring the rare non-smoking section, expect to inhale plenty of secondhand smoke.
For the high rolling baccarat players, there is usually an entity between the player and the casino, known as a junket. These organizations do not like dealing with the general public, but to do business on a personal basis in the part of China or Hong Kong they are located in. The junkets will arrange for credit, offer a percentage rebate on money wagered, known as a Dead Chip program, and rent out private V.I.P. rooms in the casinos. Some of the casinos have made efforts to bypass the junkets by offering the Dead Chip deal directly to the player, but most players still seem to prefer the service of the junket.
For the players not connected to a junket, the casinos now encourage players to sign up for and use player cards. Incentives for signing up are usually given, like a free HK$ 50 in slot play. The player cards works the same way as in the U.S., put it into the machine when you play slots, or give it to the floorman when you sit down at the table. Often the applications will show gifts you can earn for various levels of play.
For specific game by game gambling advice, please see my individual sections on the following games offered in Macau.
In closing, Macau is a place of transition. The old Macau is a lot like Vegas used to be, or so I'm told, before Howard Hughes came along. The new Macau is seeking to become a mini Las Vegas, centered on the Cotai Strip. For the moment you can find both, even right across the street from each other. I hope to return of Macau often, to keep up to date on its progress.