Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Thanks to Drambuie_Man, we have a major set of new Macau photos that highlight the construction of the MGM Grand Macau, Venetian Macau and others. He was also kind enough to write up his report, which you will find after the jump.

The photos are located here:

Huge thanks go out to Drambuie_Man for taking and sharing these photos with us. He attached some notes to the photos which I have distilled and included here after the jump. I highly suggest that you give these a read along with the photos to get a better sense of context.

Here goes...

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1. Once Opened, this is the view some of the MGM rooms may have. Funny thing I did not know what this picture looked like until some time later. I expected it to be a beautiful view, but there was a tall metal wall/fence that made it impossible to see. So I hoisted my camera high for what I thought would be a great view of the harbor and one of the bridges. Instead all it was was more fill land that will eventually have other buildings, likely of si hight milar. Bottom Line, the MGM may have no views in the end.

2. One of my favorite things to see in Hong Kong/Macau. Men very high-up using nothing but bamboo scaffolding to hold them up!

Macao Report
March 2007

Instead of doing this as a narrative, allow me the luxury of bullet points. I was much better prepared, and accordingly I gained a lot to share on this trip.

First observation is Two Way Hard Three is followed in Macau. A Macau business magazine had a recent quote on Wynn’s credit system that originated from the blog. Accordingly I need be circumspect in some places. I never did tell my interviewees that their comments might come back to Macau (as one person put it, Macau is a small town for those who live there).

[Editor: Wow! That's really cool!]

Development – Macau proper

First, special mention needs to made of the Grand Lisboa. The casino has opened up, look for notes below. However the tower has yet to open up. Looks damn impressive though. The casino is enclosed in a geodesic like glass dome that turns into a HUGE warped big screen signboard at night. Not to sure if you can see that in my photos, but its impressive and very…um…Blade Runner-ish if you get my drift.

Also opened since my last trip is the Galaxy (again notes to follow), located just north of the Wynn. In fact the thought crossed my mind with the Sands at the north end, the Wynn/Lisboa/Galaxy/MGM at the south, and also all sorts of grind type SJM joints between I really wonder if Cotai will really take off, or some sort of dichotomy like LV downtown vs. the Strip will develop. They already have a “strip” on the Macau peninsula it seems.

The notable pending development here is the MGM. The hotel tower looks pretty much finished (needs a bit of work on the top). However the Casino and non-hotel parts seem to be lagging behind. I do not know if you can see it too well in my MGM photos, but the interiors are still pretty much bare steel and concrete without any pipes or wiring. I personally think if they make their late 2007 projected opening they may just squeak into that year.

The Wynn expansion (sorry no photos, there really were no good views) is swimming along. Once open in the summer (projected) the Casino floor space will double and expect a good bump in revenue after that (never saw one empty table of anything at the Wynn when I was there). I found no evidence of what so ever is the Diamond suites, or whatever the new high roller accommodations are called.

Development – Cotai

This was my first time down Cotai way. All I can say right now is, it's underwhelming. Most of the development is nowhere near even visible. In fact the south end hotels (a Hilton and something else I cannot recall) are not even ready building site wise. They seemed to be using the space for either storage or there still needs primary infrastructure to be finished (e.g. sewer, electric, etc.). The AsiaTV mixed-use site had a bit more activity, seemed like in initial planning for a foundation.

I will save the Venetian for last, let me talk about some of the more notable developments. First one thing unmentioned normally is the Cotai border gate. This will accept mainlanders from a bridge from Zuhai (the Chinese mainland town by Macau). Right now it seems to be only accepting the commercial construction traffic for the development of Cotai, but one day that huge complex will be processing the tourists by the thousands. You can see the structure in the AsiaTV picture; it’s the big thing in the back.

Moving north the two of what I termed the “north hotels”, the Shangri-la and St. Regis, are in the foundation stage. Nothing to see but cranes popping out of the ground. The same goes for the “City of Dreams” development directly across the street from the Venetian. I think it’s a SJM development, but could be wrong. One final one in this group, the Four Seasons for the Venetian has broken ground and is in the foundation phase.

All the above (except the AsiaTV development and City of dreams) will apparently end up with casinos managed by the Sands, a Macau version of the CityCentre project. One firm does hotel, another does gaming.

Directly behind the Venetian and stretching to the Jockey club is the Galaxy Mega Resort project (tangent, why is that HK area firms can get away with the dumbest names and pull them off with zen like wisdom? I will always remember the painfully fashionable HK eateries I saw, “MAX”, “Noodle”, and “Eat”). Anyway the Mega Resort’s skeleton is up and looks like its well on its way to 2008 completion.

OK the big boy. As you can see most of the Venetian is ready for its late 2007 summer opening. Looks like interior and facades are done. Convention and support buildings are up. All that is really needed is landscaping. However that seriously looks behind. I do not know the complexity or the simplicities of it but it seems to be the front pond and canals need major work to be ready on time.

Final thought on the Venetian is a bit of info passed along by another US casino exec over here. The Venetian has booked its convention space for six months solid from its opening date. This points to a pretty strong success as well as providing incentive to get that sucker done on time.

A general worry about the Cotai project is a possible glut of rooms. This particularly a worry with so many high end chains building. It is a bit of a worry that mainlanders will be unwilling to spend so much on hotel with cheap Zuhai a stone’s throw away. Many current non-casino hotel operations are worried about the impact as well.

Development - Other

This was the first time I flew into Macau, and it’s as scary as it looks like on Google Earth. It’s like landing on an aircraft carrier. They have one strip and its just a narrow piece of reclaimed land with two even more narrow causeways connecting it to land and a terminal that is almost literally built into a side of a cliff. Many people in and out of the gaming industry are worried about how they will attract the traffic from China they want with such limited air facilities. However they are developing a second ferry terminal right by the airport. I do not know how much it will help, but it may just depend how they work it in relation to the Hong Kong airport (right now you can fly in and directly transfer to the ferry, eliminating the need to pass HK immigration and customs).

Another thing that hit me is the amount of bus services the casinos offer. Right now all the casinos offer extensive free shuttle services. Given the proximity of them, especially at the Wynn/Galaxy/Grand Lisboa/MGM being so close I wonder if they will get together and save some cost with a unified service.

Game News

Speaking of scuttlebutt from Casino execs, one of the biggest surprises for everyone in Macau is the growth of the Slot handle. Slots were never really used in the past in Macau (The Stanly Ho SJM era). When the Sands put them in, they were oddities. However over the past year the gamblers have really gone for the machines. Due to this development a lot more floor space for every casino will be dedicated to slots. However they still expect a majority of the action and revenue to be at the tables.

Other than that no real game news or future developments. Word had it that the Wynn in its opening days did try to get a poker room going, only to find no interest. Surprising since I saw the Poker shows broadcasted on TV the last time I was in Hong Kong a few months ago. The same word also had it that both the Sands/Venetian and the Wynn will keep on trying to introduce new games when they can in order to provide novelty, if not a more “Vegas” type environment as it was related to me.

Meanwhile Mike E from the comment section will be pleased to know that the Grand Lisboa has full table Baccarat at HK$100 minimum bet (about US$15). If you get the ticket Mike, it’s on the third floor of the domed casino. However it’s not all segmented off.

Local Views

I had some time to talk with some of the locals about the casino projects. Granted my sample was a little slanted, but it’s worth passing on. I talked to a restaurant owner, a tour information person, and the only random person a guy I sat next to on a public plaza.

Public feelings I found could be summed up as “We have a bad feeling about this.” The first part of this is pretty understandable, Macau feels it has lots of tourism options and want Casino’s to only be side entertainment, a nightlife option if you will. The feeling is these mega-casinos will suck tourists in, and they will never get out to see other places or dine and shop in small local places. In a way it’s well founded, the bulk of the incoming flow is mainlanders who only see the Casinos.

An interesting side is there are new worries about organized crime. The triads (Chinese mobs) were a staple in the days of the SJM monopoly. The official version is the Communist Chinese cleaned up the Portuguese mess. However new worries that the triads are now involved in the construction unions (such as they are) and businesses providing building materials.

That all said they all welcomed the boost to the economy. There is some thoughts that if the Casinos are stand alone operations they could be well insulated from such things and have a more pleasant daily life. We will see how things develop.

Operational Notes

A topic that came up in my last trip report was “What constituted a ‘whale’ in Macau?” Turns out very similar to Vegas. The basic rule of thumb is they need to show up with US$1 million, cash. The cash comment does line up with something else I found from quite a few casinos on this trip, the boys in Macau do not do credit.

An interesting note about whales is I was told they are not brand loyal in the slightest. The Junketeers, who get a commission for having them come, control them. Of course if the Junketeers get a better deal, they defect with their Whales. There is little connection, if any, between the whales and player service people.

One of the major comps for us non-whales still needs major work at all the properties, cocktails. Like a lot of things in Asia, as soon as you go away from the norm things grind to a halt. Coffee, tea, and water are easy to get, but anything outside that gets confused looks. Partly its language (I said “beer” at the Wynn in four different languages, two of them Asian and two of them the ‘official’ languages of Macau, and nobody understood this rather simple request, even the pit boss), and partly its Mainland Chinese chose not to drink while they gamble. On the other hand, I wonder if its simply they are not aware such things can be comped. God help the casinos if they find out cigarettes are usually comped as well.

Another problem with the afore and the Vegas environment is the cocktail waitresses are, well to be blunt, like getting drink service from your grandmother. Part of this may be the jobs are not that attractive in Macau. I was still the only person tipping the drink person, and got confused looks for doing so.

A funny side thing was one SJM owned casino I went to for the heck of it. They decided to theme the place as “ancient greek” in response to the competition it seemed. In case you wonder what this was like, you have to remember it’s a SJM place. Think if Caesar’s Palace met the Ellis Island. Anyway, the Casino had these young-ish Russian girls circulating with trays of soft drinks. I thought this was rather surprising, then I went to the hotel lobby to find out that the Russian girls were part of a “dance show” which the Russian lady at the entrance told me that was a great show and could offer “personal shows” if I saw a dancer I liked. So I guess the visa deal is, dance, serve drinks, and what you do on your private time is yours.

Needless to say I do not see to many drunks in the casinos. However what I did run up against is cheating. In Macau you do not necessarily need to be at the table to bet. It is not uncommon to see people floating from table to table and reaching over your shoulder to place a bet in your space. One guy did this at a table I was at, right by a bet that was 10 times his. They both won, and he quickly reached out and got both bets and the winnings. He was caught and tried to play it off innocently, but security in the end escorted him somewhere.

While I was in Macau one issue that was sweeping the SAR was a rash of counterfeit HK$1000 notes (about US$130) of a certain series (HSBC notes for those that are wondering). It was a little amusing to find dealers closely scrutinizing notes of this series while giving a almost comical perfunctory review of HK$1000 bills of another series. Word was this problem may get a lot worse, and may be an enterprise the triads are getting into.

Individual Casino Notes

Sands Macau – What difference a few months makes. It’s still a busy place, and the Saturday bar show was rather racy for Macau standards, yet it’s fraying at the edges. The carpeting is going in places, the felt is worn in places, and a floor or two was dead on a Saturday night. Personal observation, the oldest of the “new” places is beginning to degenerate into older SJM places.

Galaxy – First time here, and its nice looking, it has a wide screen behind the stage that has to be seen to be believed. However I seriously wonder if something is horribly wrong with the ventilation system. It smelled and looked as smoky as the older places. Also the three dealers I had were rather rude.

Grand Lisboa – SJM answer to the new development around, and it is a jewel of a casino. Open and airy, but still cozy and welcoming. The staff however needs help. Getting a player’s card was particularly difficult, and there was much confusion on me checking my bag before passing though security. I cannot believe how hard it was for me to place a bet.

Wynn – As you may tell from the above, what really stood out this trip at the Wynn was the level of service. While not perfect (see the beer order above), it was much more friendly and nicer than any of the others. This is still my pick for the city, and the limits are lower than Vegas, which is great for a low roller like me (never been to the Wynn in LV< but I always felt intimidated by the Belliagio back in the day I was in LV). That said though, the Grand Lisboa can give it a run for the money if service over their improves.

Notes on my play

Due to the absence of Craps, Pai Gow (ironically), and a seven-card stud game, I was left with Baccarat, which I am really getting into by the way. If you can find it in the archives, I was playing the system proffered by Mike E in the comments section. I had mixed results, and frankly wonder if its only to dull the boredom of betting “banker” all the time, the best bet between the two. It was interesting though to be doing something that many of the Chinese players thought was giving me a secret edge while I was winning.

Anyway Mike, I find that it is not too useful in “what” to bet, but “how much”. Defiantly whey the count was over 25, the banker hit more often it seemed. I was down, until the count got a blistering 45 four hours before my flight. I was betting accordingly and broke even for the trip.

Travel Notes

In my original post, I mentioned that I was taking a weekend trip with a redeye at the end (arrived in Seoul at 645am Monday). It worked so well and was so inexpensive I am actually considering doing it again next month if I can swing it.

One final note, and very odd at that. This is my first time in Macau without going to HK first. Now while the two SAR’s have different currencies they linked at a 1:1 exchange rate and both are freely accepted. Upon landing they gave me Macau Patacas and could not give me HK Dollars. OK fine I guess, but then I found that NONE of casinos accept Patacas at the tables. You need to exchange them for HK Dollars at the cage. Odd.

(Last tip, if you can help it when you go wait to exchange money at the Casino. All offered much better rates than banks/money changers).


Read archived comments (13 so far)
March 29, 2007 11:30 AM Posted by Christian

Wow. That was pretty amazing coverage! The ultimate question is the lack of Vegas-ness to Macau going to make it unsucessful or is the approach going to prove unqiue and refreshing in its own fashion? One thing that gives me a worry is the mega-resorts monopolizing the economy of Macau, as Drambuie_Man says, by diverting attention from local restaurants to mega-resort award winning cuisine. The lack of air transport is also a HUGE problem that I think is understated in this report.

The culture seems set in its ways so I don't expect a huge change as far as getting a beer more easily or it being a party town that "what happens there stays there". Is it me or do all the resorts seem to be expecting a similar operation to Vegas...just on a brand new canvas?

March 29, 2007 11:57 AM Posted by detroit1051

Drambuie_Man, thanks for the excellent report and photos. Where did you take the photo of the model of MGM Grand's courtyard or atrium? Does MGM have a Preview Center?
Your comment on Venetian being booked up with conventions for the first six months is very promising. Regarding the incresasing popularity of slots, did you notice whether manufacturers were proportionately represented, or did you see a heavy percentage of Aristocrats (Australia)? How about IGT, WMS and Bally?
I didn't know Mscau had its own commercial airport; thought all came into Hong Kong and then by ferry. Are there plans to expand Macau's airport into a larger regional facility?
A very interesting report! Thanks again.

March 29, 2007 1:23 PM Posted by Mike E

That had to be the grand daddy of all Macau reports! Thank you and thanks for checking the minimums for me.

I was sweating a little when you said the count got up to 45. Glad it did you well.

March 29, 2007 3:06 PM Posted by mike_ch

I have to say I'm unimpressed by the whale system at Macau. I did not expect them to have pimps. Call them junketeers, managers, whatever. They're essentially performing the role of a pimp.

This throws my predictions about Macau into a tailspin because I was expecting brand loyalty to the established Vegas names, and for the casino hosts to be treating whales with complimentary visits to the company's Vegas property.

Because of brand loyalty, I was expecting the allure of Ho/Wynn/MGM on Macau to cause rough waters over at the high-limits rooms on Cotai. LVS is probably used to this system by now, although I wonder if they're investing too hard in luxury property considering that the big shots are pimped out and will go to wherever the best commission is.

March 29, 2007 3:20 PM Posted by mike_ch

Detroit, I have a little insight into slots and I don't believe any of the names you've mentioned (some I have insight into, others I don't) have really gotten into Macau casinos. Some of them have opened up sales offices or struck deals with incoming developers.

There is, however, a pretty big Chinese slot market already. Last year at G2E I saw more than a few mini-booths set up with video slots in some Asian language I couldn't identify (and I could identify Japanese or Korean.) They're fairly crude looking compared to most of the games you see in Vegas, but if they have the connections entrenched into the local industry, then they'll hold considerable sway.

I have a guy in Hong Kong who sends me Macau hype regularly and almost everything slot related is about some company I've never heard of before.

March 29, 2007 4:23 PM Posted by Bert

Hi Drambui,

Great to hear you had a great trip to Macau!

Some of your observations I must say are spot on, MGM Grand Macau location is a real concern as they are also building a major residential development Central One next door. There is still no news what is going to happen with the land reclamation, but I as rumours have a residential project is in the making. My guess is that MGM will open early 2008, the reason you see little interior work done is the lack of highly qualified contractors.

Don't forget that Crown Macau is working 24-hours shift to have a soft opening on May 9, add to that the Venetian around August 2007 and as I can see on your pictures there is still a fair way to go on the perimeter buildings MGM Grand will suffer.

Another casino never discussed here is Casino Ponte 16, which suppose to open 4-Q this year.

The Cotai Strip will have a huge battle with the Macau Peninsula casinos, but then again I don't know if these conventions bring the much needed cash in. Also have my doubts about Crown Macau, being a bit lost on it's on in Taipa, not forgetting their nightmares with the City of Dreams project, as their land deal is still not approved by the Macau government. Obviously this will slow down that project.

And yes, infrastructure is a major concern, airport capacity needs to double, the light rail project is is now delayed to 2010, and the Hong Kong-Macau-ZuHai road bridge is still light years away!

And last but least, Macau needs another 30,000 dealers by 2010, they must be locals and the word on the street is that the casinos will be luck to just half of that!

March 29, 2007 6:21 PM Posted by George/Drambuie

Wow, I had no idea things were so big until I see them online. A few answers to the comments so far.

Christian> It is worth noting that Macau was a party town for people from HK long before this. There used to be a Hong Kong centered chat board called Ice Red that had rather detailed instructions and reports on the massage parlors and such. It�s in its DNA, and I think there are some things the casinos can do to help.

However in the end you are right about the culture, but if you carry that thought forward who knows what Macau will really be like in the end.

Detriot> The picture of the atrium was on the battered grimy steel barrier walls for the construction project. I was surprised how well my picture came out.

No idea on the machines did not look that closely out of habit since I hate slots mostly. However all of them are pretty advanced machines.

One last thing I did not put in machine wise, there seemed be a growing number of slot parlors around Macau. These include automated table games. Specifically baccarat and roulette. No video poker, the Vegas boys put them in every so often and take them out just as fast. Much more profitable to keep the wheels in.

Mike E> You were sweating, how do you think I felt doubling up until I was betting x8 my original bet unit? Thanks for the counting system. I think it may have some applicability in the extremes, but from 0-25 I think it�s more about just justifying the boredom of betting �banker� all the time.

Mike Ch> Whales are an area I needed to be circumspect in, but I thought it was important to bring up. The general impression though was this is somewhat a temporary start-up situation. The hope seems to be that once Macau expands and provides more options to gamblers the Junketeers will fade away.

Bert> Labor is a huge issue. The bodies are there (most of the hiring is done from the mainland anyway), but the education level is just not there. Again I am trying to be circumspect, but a real problem down there is having dealers and pit bosses thinking on their feet and taking initiative. The whole management issue both for employees and managers will be a huge problem behind the scenes as Macau plays out.

March 30, 2007 7:02 AM Posted by Chris B

Ponte 16 is coming up in a big way - I was over near that last week and the structure is already well developed. I'm back there tomorrow actually and if I get near it I'll take a photo or two.

Article in the local Macau paper today stating that bridge might commence construction before year end (but that has been said before) and also mention of a subway system. The government just needs to stop wasting time and get started on something.

April 2, 2007 8:42 AM Posted by abbi Silver

How about Timeshare and Condo Pre-Sales? Any insight on the subject would be appreciated.

April 2, 2007 12:47 PM Posted by detroit1051

I'm assuming this is for the current Wynn Macau expansion. There's not an additional expansion coming, is there?

April 2, 2007 5:40 PM Posted by George/Drambuie

Detriot> That should be the current expansion. The new build will double the floor space for the Casino.

April 7, 2007 9:55 PM Posted by Bert

This picture shows that the Sands Macau hote extension is coming along nicely!

April 11, 2007 1:40 AM Posted by In Macau

Grand Lisboa are removing the full size baccarat tables. I also hear that expat casino staff and westerners looking for Craps and Hold Em poker could well see it first here. I was surprised at the comments on service as in general I have found at least the attitude to be better here than Wynn.