The Differences Between Macau and Las Vegas

The Encore Grand Salon at Wynn Macau

These days I seem to be getting all of my writing done from trains, planes and automobiles buses.

I’m currently en route to Hong Kong for less than 24 hours before heading back to Portland for the summer.

Note: Back in Portland now…

But this post is about neither of those places.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go to a place that I’d been wanting to travel to for quite some time: Macau.

Similar to Hong Kong, Macau is a “special administration region of China” .  Not really a country, but not really China.  Either way it’s good enough to qualify as country #4 in my goal to go to 5 new countries this year.  Not too bad considering we’re only 1/3 of the way through the year!

So for those of you that don’t know, from a monetization stand point Macau is essentially Las Vegas, for Chinese people.  It boasts many of the same Casinos like the Venetian and the Wynn, and actually takes in FIVE times more gambling revenue on an annual basis than its U.S. counterpart.

But the question I’ve been wondering for awhile is, just how similar are these two places?

Short answer, not very.

Macau History

Macau was established as Portuguese colony in the 16th century.  Due to this, you still see heavy European influence in ways that you generally won’t find anywhere else in Asia (it’s pretty wild to see Portuguese street signs right outside of China).

In 1999 the Chinese government assumed formal sovereignty over Macau, which paved the way to turn it into the gambling destination that it is today.

The Gambling Culture

In the United States most people who gamble tend to think of it as a recreational sport.  You set aside $500 each time you go to Vegas that you expect to lose.  The casual gamer will throw $20 in a slot machine more for the free drinks than anything else.

Not gonna find that in Macau.  You see many of the people who come here, come to gamble. One of the biggest differences between Vegas and Macau is that in Vegas it’s entertainment, here it’s an investment.  That’s really how many people here view it, and as such everything is geared towards that market.

Macau is more expensive than Las Vegas.  One of my favorite things about Sin City is the fact that you can make it as cheap or expensive as you want. One night you can blow it out on a five star restaurant, some craps, and a nightcap at Tao, and the next you can drink free margaritas and walk the strip (which is very much an attraction in itself).

The people who come to Macau generally have money.  The minimums are in many instances double or triple what you’ll find in Vegas.  I love the $3 minimum craps at O’Sheas, and thought I might be able to find something similar in Macau.  Yeah right.  At any major hotel you were looking at a 300MOP minimum for a hand of blackjack (about $38).  If you head to some of the older or lesser known Casinos (such as the Lisboa) you might find 100 MOP but you aren’t going any lower than that.

Craps (where you could find it) was always a 100MOP minimum, but that meant you usually had substantially more than that out on the table.

Baccarat and Sic Bo (still not sure how to play either) are obviously the games of choice here as there they seem to take up the vast majority of the casino space.

There’s also no drinking at most of the casinos in Macau.  Instead they’ll bring you tea or coca cola. This proved to be frustrating for my buddy Ryan and I when all we wanted was a beer after our 2 and a half hour adventure through customs in 90 degree weather with 90% humidity (it was just as bad as it sounds).

We essentially chose the worst possible day to visit as tourists, as it was the first day of Chinese Labor Day. Almost every hotel was packed, and room prices were jacked way up.

If you want to gamble and you’re willing to throw some dough around, you’ll be right at home in Macau.

The Hotels

So what about the hotels?  Macau is the only place in the world to boast counterparts to some of the most well known Vegas hotels like the Venetian and Wynn.

Well, to be honest, the hotels in Macau are pretty similar to their North American siblings.

The Venetian Macau is cavernous.  Upon it’s completion in 2002 it was the second largest building in the world by square footage.  However it wasn’t quite as refined as it’s sister, but still packed full on a regular basis.

Exterior of the Wynn Macau

The Wynn Macau

The Venetian and MGM have similar goals to the Vegas hotels – appeal to the masses while also treating the big spenders well throughout the process.  That’s something Vegas has always done well – make the average Joe feel like a total baller for a weekend.

The Wynn Macau however took a very different approach.  While the decor and rooms were very similar the original hotel, they targeted a different market.  They went straight for the high rollers – and you can tell.

Everything was just more refined and personalized than it is in the Wynn Las Vegas or the other major Macau properties.  While the Casino is very large, it’s extremely segmented.  You walk in, find your game of choice, and you feel as though the Casino is there to cater for you. 

We had the opportunity to eat at their two Michelin Star Wing Lei restaurant which was some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.  Incredible tastes and unique approaches to common dishes like spring rolls and dumplings were great.  While there are nice restaurants all over Macau that I haven’t experienced, I can truly say that my experience at the Wynn was top notch.

We also toured four of the rooms on the property, and we learned that the lavish shades of reds and golds at Encore were purposefully chosen because they reflect wealth and prosperity in line with the Chinese culture.  The color tones at Wynn Tower are much warmer, while Encore is more vibrant and playful.

The other places we went (The Sands Cotai, Sands, Grand Lisboa, Grand Waldo) all felt Vegas-esque but less refined.  The casinos were often disjointed on multiple floors in a way that just didn’t quite work, and repeatedly we found ourselves in long hallways with cool features (fountains, light shows etc), but none of the details that make you feel comfortable.

A Few Other Things to Note

While Vegas could arguably be considered a family destination (ok, maybe that’s a stretch) Macau definitely is not.  I’ve been told they are working on changing that, but right now it’s all about the gambling, and the activities to entertain kids are definitely lacking.

Macau does feature the world’s highest bungee jump at over 750 feet, and I gotta say, if I had another day, I totally would have been there. It looked just as cool as it sounds.

Macau didn’t really become a destination for gambling until 2004.  Since then every six months or so has seen the opening of the next big hotel, and as the Cotai strip continues to expand it doesn’t look like that will be slowing down any time real soon, as the largest Sheraton in the world is just about ready to open.

The major hotels in Macau are pretty much separated into two primary districts, Macau central and the Cotai Strip.  It’s about a 15 minute shuttle or taxi between the two, and each have their pros and cons. The Cotai strip is the new area where most of the construction is happening, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked that area better. Quite the opposite actually, things there were far away, over priced, and not as exciting as a whole.

Macau central had more history, more to see, and more diversity in its attractions.

So is Macau worth a visit? 

Well, yes and no.

If you’re thinking of making Macau your next spring break trip in place of Vegas, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Not going to find much in the way of nightclubs, parties, or westerners.

If you’re already in Asia and you can hop a cheap Air Asia flight or ferry from Hong Kong, absolutely come check it out for a weekend.  Our 24 hours there were a blast, and I’m glad I went (it doesn’t hurt that I ended up winning $300 on the tables).

I’m sure I’m going to be back one day, but until then I’ll just have to settle for my upcoming trip to the Nevada desert.

Did you dig this travel post? Check out our recent video of our time in Cuba earlier this year.

kyle May 10, 2012 at 8:24 am
Sean May 10, 2012 at 8:40 am

NOOOOOO!!

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Chas May 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Since opening the Sands Macau in 2004, Sheldon Adelson’s personal wealth has multiplied 14 times. I am sure he loves Macau. Although you didn’t care for the Cotai Strip, if you go back, maybe check out the Galaxy there and see what you think about it.

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Sean May 13, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Yeah we kept meaning to go into the Galaxy, that was the biggest one we didn’t make it in. Seemed very Vegas-esque.

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Beau May 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Sean did you jump Macau Tower , I just got back from macau in august, greatest rush ive ever had….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxlSzQxc050

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Stephen Lee May 23, 2012 at 5:14 am

Hey, Sean, I tried to send you an email in response to your newsletter comments about this post. I got back an error message saying that your mail box is full…

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Sean May 23, 2012 at 8:43 am

hmmm that’s interesting, shouldnt be! I’ll be in touch

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John Mayson June 1, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Sounds like I was there right after you were. I was in Zhuhai for business and given our hotel was 100 yards from the border we had to visit. :-) Neat place and had some great Portuguese food. But I wouldn’t make a special trip to visit.

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Chris S. November 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Pretty accurate write up. Of course gambling revenue is going to be higher in macau than in Vegas. In Macau there is virtually NOTHING else to do but gamble. Outside of pure gambling its a boring, ugly place. Unless drinking tea and playing Baccarat in a smoke infested casino is your thing I would pass.

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jamie November 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm

first time in macau tonight. been to vegas a dozen times and love it. i love the dance clubs, the people watching, having a drink in the street and walking the strip, the connecting hotel mazes, meeting people from all over the world, pool parties, the excitement everyone brings to that one big night out…

macau had none of that, i felt like i was in a library or church bingo game. i was the only person with a smile on my face. if you come expecting vegas, you will be ‘sshhhh!-ed.’

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