Roll of the Dice: Chinese City Takes on Vegas

Look Out Nevada, Atlantic City, U.S. Casinos Betting Big on Asian Gambling Hub

ByABC News
November 12, 2006, 11:45 AM

MACAU, Jan. 6, 2007 — -- If you're feeling lucky, then you might want to book a ticket to Macau.

Forget Monte Carlo, Atlantic City, even Las Vegas. The sleepy coastal backwater, an hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong, seems set to surpass Vegas to become the gambling capital of the world.

The gaming revenues in the Chinese-held territory are expected to top $6.8 billion this year, slightly more cash than Las Vegas' casinos will bring in.

It has been a stunning transformation for this former Portuguese colony. Macau had long been known throughout Asia as a gambling mecca, but was dominated by a tawdry gambling scene, seedy nightlife and a fair share of corruption and vice.

Most of the gamblers were day-trippers from Hong Kong, who would head home flush or broke at the end of the night.

But, in recent years, Macau has undergone a multi-million dollar facelift. Since the Chinese government allowed foreign casinos to begin operating on Macau in 1991, major players have been setting up shop and cashing in.

American casino magnate Steve Wynn opened a glitzy, Vegas-style resort on Macau. The Sands group built what is now the world's biggest casino here, and others have followed suit.

The result has been Southeast Asia's own version of the Vegas strip, complete with all of the glamour and grandeur you'd expect, from lavish fountains to neon lights. It seems to be a bet that is paying off in spades.

Stephen Weaver, the vice president of Asian development for the Sands, says the investment in Macau has paid off for the casinos.

"We earned back our investment in this property in nine or 10 months," he says. "That is a successful investment by anybody's standard."

With the encouragement of the Macau government, the newest casinos are also selling themselves as resort destinations for the entire family -- offering recreation facilities, organized tours, health clubs, and exotic spas. Their hope is that families will come and stay for several days, as they now do in Las Vegas.