Thanks to reader George, we have an interesting report and photos from a recent trip to Macau. The report is after the jump.
A couple of comments on the report:
* The Sands Macau actually does have a small hotel at the moment and they are planning to expand it to over a hundred rooms in the next few years.
* While the jury is very much still out on Wynn Macau, looking only at the cash volume through that place in the first days we have reported, a lot of money is moving around in that place. Assuming that keeps up and the basic math works, they have potential to make money... Potential.
* Wynn's Tryst - I was under the impression that it was open based on photos from the club and a few reports. Given this report, I'm now not clear as to its status.
* Craps - Too bad no games in Macau. People seem to generally consider it a dying game. Personally, it is by far my favorite. I have seem quotes from Wynn that imply that he believes the same is one of the last generation. Hopefully it is not dying off.
Overall I found the specific comparisons useful for folks like me who are used to Las Vegas/US casinos and who plan to visit Macau sometime in the near future.
I am working on posting the photos that were sent with this story. They will be up soon...
I already wrote half a report, but realized that a travel guide is probably too much for most readers. Macau does not, and likely never will, rival Vegas for most of you. So I think its best to make it easy and cut straight to the action. If you want elaboration, please ask.
Something must be said about what Macau was before the Sands and the Wynn arrived. My first visit to the city was mostly sightseeing. Macau does have some lovely sites and history outside of the gaming industry, something Vegas can likely never claim unless they find Hoffa’s body (then again that is somewhat gambling related). Toward the end I cajoled my gambling averse friend to at least walk in and see one. So we walked into what was the most luxurious one, the Casino Lisboa.
A phrase immediately came to mind, “What a dump”. To give regular Vegas goers a reference, take the Plaza, remove all the cleaning and maintenance crews, and fill it with people. Now consider all those people are gambling at once, no drinking, no strolling, no people watching. Finally take the size of the Plaza casino and shrink it in half but keeping the same amount of people (remove some of the tables). Throw into some rather aggressive whores and you have the Casino Lisboa.
One, if not the prime, reason for these facilities was the monopoly held by Stanley Ho. Now Mr. Ho has some competition.
Given my past experience I was not expecting much actually. However my first stop, the Sands Macau, blew me away. A great Vegas style place, open airy, lots of space for walking around, and enough tables to handle the throngs. If I had to assign a theme, it would be generic Vegas with a little space age vibe.
What surprised me is the place still looked new, despite being open for a few years and on the receiving end of heavy usage. I was there on a Sunday afternoon/evening and the place was operating at near full comfortable capacity. Saturday night the place must be packed.
And what capacity it was. The Sands Macau operated hundreds, if thousands of tables (what games comes later). It is a two level facility, with most the casino on the second floor. The lower level is a smaller casino area as well as support rooms (offices, employee locker rooms, etc.). There is no Hotel here however.
I have not been to the Wynn in Las Vegas, but from what I saw in Macau I look forward to the visit. As you can likely guess there is a fountain doing a mini-Bellagio impersonation. The theme is somewhat European with primarily Mediterranean influences. Consider if the Golden Nugget was done with a European perspective.
The Wynn casino seemed smaller than the Sands, however it also had a hotel and set of luxury shops that would rival most Vegas casinos. The Wynn also used much more high-tech razzle-dazzle, such as LED betting limit signs and more computerized accounting methods used in the pit. Oddly however I also got the feeling that the casino personnel per gambler ratio was much higher at the Wynn.
The Wynn as well was also at its comfortable capacity level for the Sunday night I was there. At that level of use, I do not know how long the place may last. It may be just the look of the place (white always shows age easy), but it seemed like it was fraying at the edges after only a few months.
Games and other similarities
Both casinos were similar in their mix of games. By far the biggest game was Baccarat. Roulette was also found. Some slots were there, and more on that in a bit. Past that there are a couple games I never seen in Vegas and some you see Vegas experimenting with from time to time.
A quick note on familiar games to the Vegas goer outside the acres of Baccarat tables. The Sands seemed to be pushing two games Wynn was not. Unlike the Wynn the Sands had Blackjack and Caribbean Stud. Caribbean Stud had some interest and may have some traction here.
An Asian game popular in here that is not in Vegas is Sic Bo. You can think of Sic Bo as roulette played with three dice (you bet on odd/even, sum high/low, pairs, triples, combinations, etc.). From what I could tell the odds are probably equivalent to Roulette. Wynn had a more localized version called Fish Prawn Crab (no I am not making that up) that seemed to offer some better odds as I scanned the layout.
Speaking of more local games, the Sands as well were pushing two games that looked oddly familiar. One was some local variant of Wheel of Fortune. The other was Three Card Poker, which I have seen in Vegas looking like poker, however the guide to the game I glanced at quickly said it was more like Baccarat. Likewise the Wynn had a game called Double Fortune Baccarat which I have seen in Vegas before but have yet to understand how its different from normal baccarat.
In both places you could find table minimums at HK$100, or about US$12. Macau technically has its own currency, the Pataca (abbreviated MOP), however HK dollars are accepted throughout the city on a 1-to-1 basis (in turn the HK Dollar is pegged at around HK$7-8 per dollar). While you could find that minimum in both Casinos, the Wynn had fewer. Finally note that Roulette the bet minimums were HK$25, or US$3.50, at both places.
As has been said before, Slots are not too popular. In my last ill-fated visit to a Macau casino they were off to the side and placed haphazardly individually. They served mostly for the desperate who could not reach over three or four people to place a bet or for those looking to use the last of their change. However the brand spanking new all computerized numbers at the Sands and Wynn had some players and seemed somewhat popular.
However these are all just slots. There was no video poker, keno, or other of that sort. However, the Wynn did have a video version of Baccarat that looked interesting from a technical perspective.
Speaking of Keno, neither had a Keno room or a sports book. The last one is somewhat surprising given the passion for horse racing and European soccer in the area (both are bet on legally and illegally respectively). I think these limitations are legal and business relationship issues more than feasibility (I can elaborate if you want). A sports book should make it to Macau sooner or later I think.
Most disappointing for me is the absence of the two games I play the most. First, craps was nowhere to be found. Perhaps understandable given the specialization and training needed for the dealers as well as they general complexity of the game (then again they have trained dealers at the casino’s in the Casinos of the Philippines, a source of labor for HK and Macau). Second, and most surprising, there was no Pai Gow. I expected at least the domino version to be there, but nope.
I was also surprised, albeit slightly, that the Wynn did not have a poker room. Given the popularity (its even on the TV in Hong Kong) and Wynn’s fervor I expected at least an attempt. Alas, no poker game either for me.
Neither place had nightlife or entrainment options. However the Sands did have a lounge act at a bar in the Casino. Cheese factor was high for the area, but nowhere near Vegas levels. Interestingly the Wynn was due to open up a version of Tryst in Macau in mid-December. To promote the opening, they had two cute girls posing on a couch outside the lounge going though reconstruction. Perhaps an odd promotion in the US, but somewhat run of the mill for Asia.
One thing both casinos had that Vegas doesn’t is pretty heavy security. To enter both places you need to pass through a metal detector and have your bags searched (and mostly likely eventually checked). Do not expect to use things like cell phones or iPods in the Casino.
Perhaps the biggest difference and drawback from Vegas in Macau is drink service. I do not know why, but there is no alcoholic beverage service at the tables. You can get soft drinks and water, however service is pretty spotty. While both had some waitress, most drink service was carts of bottled water and hot tea (hey it IS China you know) being wheeled about or simply set out.
How did I do?
Well essentially I broke even in about five hours of play spread between both places. I played almost exclusively Baccarat, a game I have never played before. Surprisingly I enjoyed it. I may end up playing more of it in other places, however differently than how I ended up playing it in Macau. It’s not the rules, but the etiquette.
When I seen Baccarat in Vegas it seemed the more genteel game (the antithesis of my favored raucous craps table). Quiet, with people demurely flipping over cards. However in Macau player regularly shout in victory and loss. They also fold, bend, and otherwise mutilate the cards. I think one reason for this is to increase the excitement of revealing it a bit at time. However, I could never get the reason why a player would fold up a corner hard, see the card, and then fold it back down, furiously rub the card on the felt, and then fold it back up exasperated that it was the same card (a funny sight not be missed).
I was about to end the day about US$120 in the hole cashwise, however about half of that was from various tips so not really gambling losses (I will explain later). I wanted to leave the Wynn, but I had half a cigar left in my mouth and was unsure about going through security and the lobby with it (it was a rather expensive Cuban…ah the good side of not being in Vegas). So I plunked my self down at a 20 HK cent (think Nickel) slot machine. The rather bizarre layout allowed you play 20 lines at time, so I did. I never figured out how but after about 15 minutes I was up about US$60 from a US$3 buy in and I got the heck out of there.
Tipping, a lessons learned
I have never been a big tipper, and likely I have been treated accordingly in Vegas. I would usually flip a small chip to the waitress and my small change after a session to the table. So by habit I did the same thing as I left the table for the first time at the Sands.
The dealer and pit overseer (not a “boss” technically I think) were rather shocked to see the chips and the words “for the table”. In a way this is not too surprising, tipping is not too common in East Asia in general. Likewise, and much to the surprise of some visitors, tipping usually gets you nothing. Since there is no tip to work for normally, nobody puts out that extra effort to get one. Anyway, despite their surprise the dealer did know what to do with it and thanked me kindly.
Seeing this surprise and effusiveness at the Sands, I decided to try a bit more at the Wynn. I flagged down a waitress, got a coke, and gave her a HK$25 chip, or US$3.50 which is a pittance in Vegas at a place like the Wynn I would think. My glass was never empty until I left that table. When I found out, contrary to the guest services girl, they were rating players for the table games I passed another HK$25 chip with my player card. She thanked me, pointed out it really should go to the table, and eventually I got a HK$100 comp for the local version of the coffee shop.
What was notable with all this small tipping was not only the normal tip/service ratio, but also the fact that I was betting the HK$100 table minimum at the baccarat table, was only playing about an hour, and breaking even. I cannot see myself doing that at the Wynn Las Vegas and getting the same treatment (let alone the comp). It could have been tips, it could have been promotion in general, or it could have been both (was I serving as an example of a “proper” gambler at a Vegas style place for the locals to emulate?). My mind boggles at the generosity.
While both the Sands and the Wynn were filled and seeing good action, I do wonder how profitable they really are.
Despite stories, and perhaps stereotypes, to the contrary, I did not see any reckless betting. Baccarat was by far the game of choice, yet as any gambler could tell you Player and Banker have some of the best odds on the casino floor.
Again, slots were not too popular. Table games on the other hand are considerably more expensive to run from both a labor and administration angle. This overhead cuts into profits.
Now I know there are many saying these two casinos are almost printing money they are so successful. However I fail to see it that way. What I see is a lot of unused potential. I hope these two keep on pushing the boundaries of what can be done in Macau, both gambling and entertainment, to achieve their full potential.
With that I think the government of Macau needs to do more, specifically promotion. One great asset Las Vegas has is the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The folks that remind us to keep it in Vegas does a great service in promoting the general glamour of the place. They encourage things like TV shows of the best of Vegas and such. Macau needs an aggressive body like this, especially considering the past reputation (which includes a mob more bloody than Scarface’s coke-fueled dreams).
On the other hand, perhaps Sheldon Anderson’s attempt to monopolize the name “Cotai Strip” is a good thing. It may give not only some American swagger and savvy to the operation but also the fresh start needed to rebrand Macau.
What ever happens, it’s going to be interesting and now I look forward to visiting Macau again.