The Sands Macau opened in 2004 and is one of three properties owned in Macau by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the others being the Venetian and the Plaza. For those looking for the glitz and glamour of Vegas, try heading to the Cotai Strip for the Venetian. The Sands doesn't pay a lot of mind to periphery endeavors. Its only concern is with strict hardcore gambling.
The Sands is situated on the southeast corner of the Macau Peninsula, directly opposite Fisherman's Wharf. That puts it about a fifteen minute walk away from the main casino action along Avenue D'Amizade. Despite its isolated location, the Sands is not alone. The JiMei, Grand Lapa and Waldo Hotels also ply their trade in this part of town.
The main show at the Sands Macau is definitely gambling; everything else is almost an afterthought. Corners were definitely cut during the planning stage on floor aesthetics and lighting, but what you miss out on there is made up for by the sheer number of games available. More specifically the Sands has over 700 plus table games and well over 1200 slot machines. The action, on average, is expensive. $300 minimum tables are the norm. $100 tables are hard to find and each game may only have two or three such tables. Slots, on the other hand, are surprisingly cheap. There are plenty of 1, 2, 5 10 cent HKD slots to go around.
The gambling is spread out over four floors with most of it occurring on the enormous first floor. A smoke free casino is available on the ground floor while the high rollers head to the high limit exclusive members only Paiza Club on the third floor. (Interestingly enough the Paiza Club is not off limits to non members. Tables with minimums of $1,000 to $10,000 are common, while the highest one I saw was a baccarat table at $80,000. The Paiza club is separated into about 20 smaller rooms with three or four tables in each, with each room named after a city in China, for example, Guilin room, Beijing room, Dunhuang room, etc.)
For those ladies who only want to gamble in the company of the other women, there is a small ladies only section on the first floor, made up of three tables. All three tables are baccarat, with minimum bets of 300 and 200 respectively.
For such a large casino it is interesting that there is no poker room. Following is a list of the Sands Macau games. Unless otherwise indicated, normal Macau rules and payouts apply to all games.
In order for any casino review to be authentic, the reviewer must gamble. To that end, I did what I had to do and entered the fray. At 2 pm I started playing Blackjack at a hundred dollar table, which was not easy to find, as there are only three of them in the whole casino. The table was empty when I started but soon filled up. On the whole I find the level of Blackjack playing in Macau to be noticeably worse than in the West. I'm not sure how many people here have heard of basic strategy. The mistakes made are plentiful and not easy to watch. I know there are beginners everywhere but even people here well versed in the rules of the game don't really know what they're doing. For some, I think they just play the game to get in on the 11-1 pair sidebet which is a sucker bet to begin with and shouldn't be played ever - under any circumstances. But they go on anyway, happily dropping $50 HKD or more on each player's hand hoping one hits a pair. And if one does, they invariably drop another $50 HKD down that the third card dealt to the player will match yet again, odds and probability be damned.
While playing blackjack, I noticed an inconsistency in the performance of the dealers. Not all of them acted in the same way. The rule at the Sands is that surrender can only be invoked after everyone has seen their cards and the first player has yet to play. This, however, for some dealers, was a loose rule. Some would allow players to surrender when their turn came up afterwards. One poor woman playing at second base was a little perplexed knowing that the last dealer let her surrender when her turn to play came up, but then a new dealer didn't. Poor thing had to hit a 15 against a 10 with a grand bet sitting on the table. Obviously whoever is watching the dealers should be correcting this mistake instantly. Casinoes can't have dealers of the same games doing different things. In my opinion the whole procedure stinks in the first place and should be scrapped. They ought to let players surrender when their turn comes up. There's no need to interrupt the flow of the game by asking players at the outset.
During my three hours of play I found roughly half of the dealers could speak, or at least, understand, some English. Play for me, overall, went well. I bet low all the way through and was always up, usually around a grand. I think, at my peak, I may have been up $1800, but those good times didn't last. When I walked away after three hours, I was up an even thousand and decided to try my luck at Fan Tan.
Fan Tan caught my interest just recently after I learned that it used to be THE game for Chinese people, in and around the turn of the 19th Century. I'm very much into Chinese history, especially the history of that era, so I was eager to see what the fuss was all about. After playing it for a half hour, I found the game to be excruciating. It had nothing to do with the dealers or the other players, who were all cool, but with the randomness of it all, of my bet, of betting $300 to win $95, of knowing that I'd have to win 4 times for every time I lost just to turn a profit. My strategy was to bet 2,3,4 all the way through and hope there was a long dry run for the number 1. Well that long dry run for the number 1 never materialized as it came up twice in 30 minutes. When it came up a second time I called it quits, up $435. The only reason I was up that much was because I tried a Fan bet on the number 4 once and luckily won it, winning $300. Otherwise I'd only have shown a meagre $135 win from betting Sheh Sam Hong. That's akin to death by slow slicing, in my opinion.
The best part about playing Fan Tan were the other players. If I was a little harsh in my evaluation of the locals as Blackjack players, then I am giving them full props for their skills at Fan Tan. Four seconds after the game started they could call out the winning number, just as the dealer only started to group the buttons with her wand. Sometimes they'd play around with me, calling the won number out to be 1 when it wasn't, knowing that's the only number I could lose with. I took the ribbing all in good fun and it lent good camaraderie to the table. I noticed the other players liked to keep track of the winning numbers with a special form provided by the casino much in the same way they do with Baccarat. Dealers English level was noticeably poorer than at the Blackjack tables, probably because not many foreigners play Fan Tan.
After playing for 3.5 hours, all at $100 tables, I accumulated 8 points on my players card. I walked away up $1,435 HKD, a win I'll gladly take every time!
The Sands Rewards Club card is good in all three of the Sands Corporation Macau properties: the Sands, Venetian, and Plaza. Gold player cards are free initially while Ruby cards and Diamond cards are earned subject to points accumulated. Ruby cards require 888 points while the magic number for Diamond cards is 8,888.
I asked three different staff members exactly how points were accumulated but no one knew the answer. They only said it was done "by computer."
Member benefits are pretty standard across the board. Discounts available in hotel restaurants are as follows: Gold club members get 10 percent while Ruby and Diamond club members get 20 and 25 percent respectively. The big goal to shoot for should be the complimentary hotel night available with the Ruby Card. However, be warned, the fine print says that perk is discretionary, based on rated play.
Big Spin and Win
Sands Rewards Club members are eligible to take a free daily spin on the "Big Spin and Win" slot machine. Top prize is a 1,000,000 HKD. Other prizes include cash as well as several slot bonuses. The machine is located on the ground floor beside the smoke free casino.
Explore the World
At my time of visiting, a two month Explore the World trip promotion was just winding down. Two draws occurred daily, at 2 pm and 7:30 pm on the stage behind the Xanadu bar. Only those with player cards were eligible to earn tickets for the draw. The main prize was a World trip worth $100,000 HKD.
On December 27th, 2010 I checked into the cheapest room available at the Sands Macau, the Deluxe Suite. The cost of the room in total was 2184 Pattacas for one night. As is the norm in Macau, room prices vary according to the day of the week, with rates lowest midweek and highest on the weekend. The only other room available at the Sands is the more expensive Executive Suite, which roughly goes for a grand more.
On the whole I would say more experience staying at the Sands left a little to be desired. There's no question the main focus there is on gaming, not on the hotel experience, and it shows as soon as you walk in the front door. The lobby is very underwhelming with nothing to suggest you are staying a five star hotel. At check in my Visa card was not accepted for some reason, with the only explanation being the transaction was declined, which was a surprise to me as I pay my bills on time. Luckily I had enough cash on me to pay for the room as well as the $2000 HKD deposit. Later on, I encountered more problems when I tried to call my credit card company long distance from the room. I was first told that I couldn't be connected, as I hadn't paid a deposit, which was completely incorrect. After I explained to the girl that I had paid, she connected me quickly, but I never made my long distance call after learning the rates were 40 Pattacas a minute. Outside on the street, the same call can be made for 1 Pattaca a minute. That markup is borderline criminal in my books.
The hotel never had the sense of being busy when I was there. Elevators were easy to get and almost never had anyone in them. Floors 1 to 6 are open to everyone and house all the hotel's casinoes and restaurants. The pool and conference centre are located on the 6th floor. Floors 7 to 23 are guest rooms and require a room card to access. Half the time during my stay the key wouldn't work properly and I had to try three or four times, an annoyance that always bothers me more than it probably should.
During my time at the Sands, I stayed on the 18th floor, room 1826. To call the room a suite is somewhat misleading in my opinion. I have seen this phenomenon before in high level Macau hotels, where they are too good to have mere rooms. Their lowest grade rooms have to be suites. At 60 square feet the room was large enough to be called a suite, but it didn't have two separate rooms, which I think suites should have. While it had two clearly defined sections, (bedroom and living room), the two parts were only divided by a wooden cabinet, which made the room feel smaller than it should have.
Nitpicking aside, the room was comfortable and nicely furnished. I had a nice view overlooking Fisherman's Wharf and the South China Sea. The bed was large and not too hard, which is often a problem in China. The bathroom was a definite highlight, nicely done up in marble and very well lit. On the left side was a shower and on the right, a Jacuzzi, which was in fine working order. (I am very much a tub guy. Sometimes I'll go so far as to judge all hotel rooms by one criterion: the size and depth of the bathtub. This Jacuzzi came in a little on the small side for my liking.)
Overall the room is just about what you'd expect for the price you're paying. I don't think anybody could be reasonably disappointed with it. The room has aged quite nicely over its six years. The largest problem I had was with its lack of complimentary products. Everything in the bathroom is readily available in three star hotels and the only free thing in the main room was a plate of fruit. The Sands degree of frugality on this front is embarrassing and for lack of a better word, just cheap.
The hotel staff was friendly throughout and most spoke reasonably good English.
The Sands Macau has one pool, located outdoors on the sixth floor. Although the size of it may not please some people, I liked the outdoor setup and the surrounding deck. Pool hours are from 7 am to 7 pm. Interestingly when I came up to the sixth floor around 8 pm the pool was technically closed but the door was still open. I took a look inside and saw five people sitting around a deck table engaged in what looked like a game of Texas Hold 'Em. Of all the places to see people gambling at the Sands it had to be poolside after hours. That's instant cred in my eyes.
If you get the wrong front desk staff you may be told that the Sands has no spa or fitness centre. That's what happened when I tried to find out where it was located after I finished dinner. The fact that I had to ask in the first place underlined a basic problem of the Sands hotel experience. They don't do a good enough job advertising their facilities or restaurants. All of this information should be readily made available through brochures in the room. That's the peril of being a casino first and a hotel second, I suppose. Anyway, take my word for it, the Sands does have a spa and fitness centre, but they’re not easy to find. You have to go to the third floor, walk past the restaurants, then through the high limit Paiza room to another set of elevators. This isolated hidden section is a whole other part of the hotel. Once you get to those elevators take one up to the eighth floor where you'll find the spa. Spa hours are from 11 am to 3 am and use of the facilities is free. Men are more fortunate than women here. The male section is fully loaded with a fitness centre, hot tub, steam room, sauna and cold pool, while women are SOL. None of those amenities are offered to female guests.
The spa was a definite highlight of the hotel. Although not very large, it had a nice ambience about it, maybe due to its smaller size. The waterfalls behind the hot tub bathed in blue and green lights were a nice touch. So was the man who occasionally came by serving up much needed bottles of cold water. For those keeping track at home, the sauna was cooking at 72 degrees C while the dials in the stream room were maxed out, reaching 42 degrees. The steam room was an experience upon itself. Puddles collected on the floor which burned your feet if you stepped in them for too long while your nose burned with each inhalation. I couldn't take any more than two or three minutes in there at a time.
The cold pool was a peculiar addition to the spa and something I'd never seen before. It was perhaps only three feet wide and five feet deep. Anybody wanting to get in would have to slowly lower themselves down standing up then kneel down. It couldn't have been sat down in. The thermometer in the water read a positively chilly 9 degrees. As I sat back in the hot tub thinking of its possible uses the first thing I thought of was that it was a safety device. If you go to any large old Chinese living structure, say pre 1900, you'll invariably see cauldrons of water surrounding the most important main buildings. Since everything was made of wood back then they needed a convenient water source to put fires out quickly. Only this cold pool wasn't there for the safety of the Sands — a modern structure — it was there for the safety of the patrons. It was there for the safety of the poor SOB who stayed in the steam room too long and caught on fire.
In all seriousness, if any reader can enlighten us to the therapeutic value of the cold pool, and why people would want to use it, we'd love to know.
With five restaurants in total, the dining options at the Sands are plentiful. Two restaurants are foreign, two are Chinese, while a fifth one does both. A nice price range exists among the restaurants, and even in some of the restaurants themselves, so neither those living little nor those large living will go hungry at the Sands. A McDonald's and a KFC also hide out in the back end of the property, but perhaps due to embarrassment, they are not advertised at all inside the hotel. Below is a list of the proper restaurants:
The right side of 888 Gourmet Palace mostly serves Asian fast food. They have three different counters each specializing in a different fare, be it Shanghai, Cantonese, Thai, or Japanese food. The Honey Dew Cafe also does Western style soup and sandwiches. Prices ranged from 25 to 55 Pattacas for each dish. I tried a rice and spicy chicken plate which ran me 48 Pattacas in total. While the food was good, it wasn't enough, so anyone planning to eat there probably has to order two dishes.
There are three bars at the Sands Macau. Respectively, they are:
Winners Circle: This wine bar on the 3rd floor was similarly ignored. I passed by it many times and never saw anybody drinking anything.
The Playboy Club: Located on the 24th floor, this upscale bar/club is the most recent addition to the Sands Macau. Its main draw, of course, is its entourage of Playboy Bunnies, fully done up in the seductive Bunny dress, ready to "entertain" guests. The club also has live music. There is no charge to get in, but it's definitely for big spenders only, as most things on the food and drink menu exceed 1000 Pattacas.
When I went in there around 10 pm the place was empty save for two or three patrons and eight or nine Bunnies, who were mostly foreign and all hot. None looked older than 22 or 23. One of them, an absolutely stunning brunette, greeted me when I walked in and asked what I wanted to drink. While I looked at the menu, she explained the club to me and what the Bunnies did. Mostly it was serving drinks, chatting and taking photos with the customers as well as drinking with the customer if that's what he wanted. But she made sure to say that Bunnies drank only champagne, and I shudder to guess how much that glass cost. When I pried a little further she revealed the "entertainment" provided didn't cross any legal or moral lines. Knowing full well that both she and the drink menu were way out of my league I took one last look around, politely excused myself, and left. Waiting at the elevator I saw her one last time when she passed by. Smiling warmly she wished me a good night again, and I did the same to her.
Back in my room, I got to thinking that maybe I wasn't wrong. Maybe I was right to stick with gambling. There are worst bets in life than the ones we make on the casino floor. The women I just talked to, for example. If she were so inclined, I'm sure she could destroy a man more completely and thoroughly than any casino game ever could.
For those staying in the hotel, dining, or gambling, parking is free.
Entertainment at the Sands Macau is sparse. The big show of the evening is the Glamour Girls, a dancing show held at Xanadu bar. The program consists of six to eight foreign beauties shaking their hips to 1960 beach tunes. The program begins with 60's surfing hit Wipeout, followed by a Beach Boys number before moving on to other things. I must confess I didn't stay to watch it. My policy is if you've seen one dancing show, you've seen them all.
In between the dancing shows there was live music an by assortment of different bands, mostly playing poppy rock music, like covers of Blondie's "Call Me."
The following day, around 1 pm, they had a singer belting out cheesy 80's tunes like Careless Whisper.
Suffice to say, no one is coming to the Sands for its shows.