Weekend in Macau, A Kiwi’s Guide to the Monte Carlo of Asia

The former Portuguese colony is abuzz with gambling action

For most Kiwis, the former Portuguese colony may still seem beyond a bamboo curtain. In the early part of the millennium, only New Zealand high rollers were able to afford an excursion to the City that Gambling Built. But a weekend jaunt to the city is now becoming within the budgets of ordinary Kiwi bettors.

Getting There and Where to Stay

Kiwis are accustomed to paying a price in flight time and air fares to escape our fair isles. But thanks to budget airlines, primarily Air Asia, round trips to Macau can be had for under NZ$1000. You’ll need to hunt for bargains, but flights out of Auckland to Macau will usually get you there in a day with one or two stops. Try also checking Skyscanner or another airfare comparison service weeks in advance to find a good flight combination. Even better. Scan your favourite casino sites for special offers for package deals or even reward travel. Some member perks include raffles or point-based awards of gambling getaways. Macau is often featured as a prize, especially for punters in Australasia. Who knows? You may snag a deal just by getting lucky. Where do you stay? Well, obviously that depends on budget. But if you’re part of a casino network which has hotel-casino combos in Macau, like the classy Wynn Palace, the arty MGM Macau, or the massive and incomparable Venetian, you might be able to pull some member perks to reduce the costs or upgrade to a comp room that fits your lifestyle. You’re not going to be in Macau every weekend, so you may as live it up a little.

A Little Historical Background

Gambling has always been the lifeblood of this coastal town. In the middle of the 19th century, its Portuguese colonial rulers legalized games of chance. Nothing since has been the same.  When the colony was handed over to the Chinese and became an autonomous region is 1999, the tradition only accelerated. For the better part of two decades all gambling was dominated by a single monopoly but since 2002 there has been some diversification of operators. 2014 was a peak for Macau, with US$45 billion in revenues. But a crackdown by the Chinese government led to nearly two years of steady decline.  There has also been a new policy of diversification of a different kind imposed by China to encourage more family-friendly and female -friendly attractions, Las Vegas style. Since 2016 there has been a steady recovery in Macau.  There are now some 40 casinos and new megaprojects continue to pop up. Today gambling accounts for 40-50% of the city’s revenue, and an amazing 70% of government income from taxes. If there were any doubts about Macau’s recovery, those were dispelled in January 2018, when the government reported year over year revenues increased an astonishing 36%, more than US$3.3 billion.

What to Play

For a long time Fan Tan was the only game in town. But those days are long gone. For years now Baccarat has been crowned the new king. The arcane European game takes pride of place at most Macau casinos. If you want to practice this game, and learn some strategies, check out our own Baccarat guideso you can feel the master of your game on arrival in Macau. But if Baccarat is King, pokies are without question the royal entourage. Like in Las Vegas, slots crowd the lobbies of casinos and hotel lobbies.  Blackjack and Roulette Tables are prevalent as well. Though Poker was only first introduced to Macau in 2007, it has been growing fast and furious. For those looking to find some more local casino colour, keep an eye out for Fan Tan and Sic Bo. This is the Orient. Chinese gamblers keep these ancient gaming traditions alive and kicking.

Where and When to Play

Casinos are everywhere in this compact enclave, but there are two main concentrations. There’s the Cotai Strip of the Macau Peninsula, and another dozen or so on Taipa Island. We suggest trying both areas and decide where you feel best. In each location you will find truly remarkable world-class casino action, with a definite oriental twist. And there are plenty of Portuguese colonial traditions – culinary and cultural – thrown in for good measure. Wherever you play, keep an eye out for the “lucky tables”. They won’t be hard to spot. There will be shouts and cries from punters of all nationalities standing three or four deep trying to get a peek – and a piece – of the action as one or more high rollers put it all on the line and test the longevity of their winning streaks. Almost all the casinos in Macau are round the clock operations. Few close. But there are still busier hours. Depending on your mood, these are the times to go or avoid. Mornings are pretty quiet but the action tends to be pick up at lunch, settling down in mid-afternoon.  Take a nap and return at night: the buzz really kicks in after dinner till about midnight.

What you need to Know about Macau Gambling

The official currency of Macau is the pataca, or MOP$. But in casinos, the preferred currency is the mighty Hong Kong dollar. Some casinos will accept and disburse cash in nothing else.  The game rules are pretty much as you would expect. But if you have never player Fan Tan or Sic Bo, it’s a good idea to get up to speed before you go.