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Vive La Différence

A look at the Asian casino market and how it differs from the U.S.

Vive La Différence

Every year when I return from my annual trip to Macau for G2E Asia, I’m always struck by how different the Macau casinos are from the U.S. Now, don’t get me wrong. A casino is a casino. Even though there are far fewer slots and far more tables, the principles of casino gaming remain the same. After all, how do you account for the billion in annual gross gaming win in Macau in 2013?

But there are so many differences that I’m amazed that it works as well as it does (or maybe the U.S. casinos don’t work as well as they should!).

This year, there is a massive amount of construction going on in the Cotai region of Macau. Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts, Melco Crown and SJM are building new projects. Las Vegas Sands is adding the Parisian hotel, while Galaxy is nearly complete on Phase II of its flagship property. And when you gaze across the narrow body of water that separates Cotai from Hengqin Island, the development on that separate territory rivals what is going up on Cotai. So it’s amazing that all that construction is under way, given the restrictions placed on hiring foreign workers by the Macau government.

I’ve always been struck by the absence of parking garages at the Macau properties. Oh, they are there, but it’s generally on a few select spots usually buried beneath these huge resorts. I was wondering if the opening of the new bridge/tunnel between Macau and Hong Kong will make more parking spaces necessary, but since few people in Hong Kong own vehicles, it’s unlikely the bridge would vastly increase the number of vehicles in Macau.

More likely, it will require larger and more elaborate transportation centers that now host shuttle buses between the various casinos and the entrances to and from Macau—the ferries and border crossings. But I suspect aggressive coach programs will be carried out between Hong Kong and Macau, bringing more of these large vehicles to the Macau casinos.

Also rising this year was the Macau light rail system that will one day link all the areas of Macau for the benefit of both residents and visitors. Let’s hope they don’t model their rail system after the Las Vegas monorail, which to this day still does not connect to the airport (and has failed to produce significant ridership as a result).

And speaking of the airport, Macau’s quaint but efficient airport is very convenient for visitors to the casinos. A short taxi or shuttle ride delivers the visitors to the casino floor and the hotels. For those of us who fly the 16-plus hours from the U.S., arriving in Macau is preferable to schlepping our bags onto a ferry for a bumpy hour-long ride to Macau after arriving in Hong Kong (at least in my opinion).

In addition to gaming, retail is becoming another success story of the Macau integrated resorts. At G2E Asia this year, MGM China Co-Chairwoman Pansy Ho pointed out that Macau has more luxury retailers per capita than any other place in the world. The Venetian shopping mall, which once was eerily empty, is now bustling with shoppers most of the day.

The proliferation of the “premium” mass market is more visible than the VIP market, which has become a little less dominant than it was in the past. But that VIP segment is so shadowy that it’s very difficult to grasp how it works and who is actually playing. The crowded “mass” casino floor makes it almost incomprehensible that such a large part of the market is virtually invisible.

As a former baccarat dealer, I enjoy viewing the different versions of the game that the casinos have developed to get the most out of them, given the restrictions on the number of table games. My favorite is Fast Action Baccarat, which offers a lower limit, along with a non-commission form of the game. More than 40 people can gather around the horseshoe-shaped table. When the winner is announced (banker, player or tie), the losing bets fall through the table like a trap door that drops victims into a crocodile pit. A dealer then scoots around the table with a movable chip tray to pay the winners. Fast, efficient and profitable, I’m sure.

And the “stadium”-style electronic table games with the tiered seating areas also appeal to a little lower limit than the regular tables, and need only one dealer since all transactions are electronic.

So Macau keeps changing and keeps fascinating me. If you haven’t been there, it would be well worth your while to plan a trip, because casino gambling in Macau is like nowhere else in the world. 

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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