Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Thanks again to George "Dram Man" Geddes for providing a trip report based around his recent trip to Macau.

The photos, previously published, are here:

Thanks George! Continue after the jump...

A few weeks ago I realized I had a couple things intersect. For two weekends in a row I had my birthday and Father's Day. With this tinder for celebration I found a match, Macau now has craps. I then checked the airfare, and gas was poured over it.

To get to Macau I did something a little different this time. I decided to fly through Hong Kong and transfer by ferry to Macau. If any of you in the US do not decide to visit Hong Kong on the way to Macau, you may want to look into this. The whole process is about as smooth as it can be. I have few tips though. First, avoid checking luggage if you can manage it. Not doing so only adds complexity, and may cause you to miss the next immediate departure. Second, go to the bathroom when you can, there is a lot of hurry-up and wait in the process and nothing around at times. Finally, as you consider your transit options, remember the cost. I paid less in airfare by flying in to Hong Kong, but the additional ferry tickets made the cost close to airfare to Macau direct for me, and also it cost me about 4-5 hours of lost time out of precious 36 hours on the ground.

Before I get into the casinos and gambling, I want to make a special note. Macau really is a beautiful city. One thing that consistently strikes me is not the beauty of the casinos (as Vegas does), but the comparison of the faux gaudiness of the casinos when compared to real Mediterranean/Chinese look of the town. If you get out here, go out see real plazas over the MGM's indoor room of facades. See real Mediterranean influenced buildings in Taipa over the plastic at the Venetian. There is even a bit of charm in the low rent gaudy neon of the old SJM properties over the newer creations. See the whole city, you will thank me in the end.

This was my first trip to see the MGM. You may be able to dig it up on the blog here, but last time I came a year ago the MGM was a concrete shell for the most part. It truly is a beautiful building from the outside. The wavy motif of its tower is carried out all around the building. The main entrance has some of that 50-60's "space-aged" influence that reminds me front of the Stardust (RIP). Past the main door is the hotel lobby, minimal and elegant. The lobby does though have a ceiling glass sculpture that reminds me a little too much of the Bellagio.

To get to the casino from the lobby, you need to pass through this fake Portuguese style plaza that looks a lot like the real ones scattered around Macau. I do wonder if they considered the irony of passing through a fa├žade of a Catholic Church to gamble? Also the actual indoor plaza is nowhere near as big as the photos or artist interpretations you can find on the Internet. It's about the size of a couple basketball courts, give or take a key. It's all nice, but sterile and nowhere near as good as the real thing a half mile away.

Sterile is about the best way to describe the casino itself. It's as if MGM chose it from a catalogue and it came boxed up and ready to be assembled. There is not much distinctive here. They did make an attempt on implementing the "traffic lanes/gambling parlors" of the Wynn, but only a half-hearted one. Traffic flow however leaves something to be desired as going from point to point (player services, table, cage, entrance, etc.) can be a real pain as you read puzzling sign directions, fight crowds, and cover a large distance. Anyway in short, the MGM is a nice place, but stale and corporate.

The MGM cannot hold a flame to the sterility of the Crown Macau however. On my last visit I missed to opening of the Crown by literally by a few days, so with Chucks rave review I was looking forward to this opportunity.

One of the funnier things I found is all the calls for photos of the Crown, as there only seems to be one or two looks of the building. Really that's it; there is not much there there. The building is a rather non-descript modern downtown hotel/office building. It lacks glitz.

I know the Crown has some big fans at the blog and podcast, I do not understand exactly why however. Sure the place is luxurious, but rather staid and sleepy. The casino is literally done in black, browns, and beige. It's like what the Desert Inn (RIP) used to be, but without the color or intimacy. The Casino is made up of 4-5 levels that collectively may be huge, but small individually. Another problem is, it's all baccarat. I did not even see a token roulette or sic-bo table.

There is only one way to describe the Venetian, massive. The casino floor is at least three football fields, and yet is only being used 80% or so right now. It has been told to me that the Venetian doubled the number of Hotel rooms available in Macau. I would also venture it increased casino floor space of the whole town by at least 20% as well.

And perhaps even more interesting, it's only just begun. The attached Four Seasons is under construction and that has casino space as well. Right now there is a half-completed bar, a makeshift stage, and a red wall just waiting to go down at the moment that is opened.

A few food notes. The Venetian has a Morton's chain steakhouse, thus making it home to about the best steak in Macau. Also in the food court in the mall on the upper floors is a Fatburger. Another welcome sight to shipwrecked-in-Asia me. Finally, in the gallery posted you will see a picture of the menu of a Japanese counter at the food court. Bukkake Udon is not what you may think (the word actually means roughly "sprinkle" in Japanese).

Pictures speak a 1000 words when it comes to the construction. The City of Dreams looks like an interesting property. Anybody know what the building in a different stage of development in the background is? The Galaxy Mega Resort looks good. Finally the St. Regis looks like way to many rooms for a luxury hotel, but looks like its on track to be open about the time of the City of Dreams.

As I mentioned, the main reason I went this time was to play craps. I had a good time playing at the MGM Grand, the Venetian, and the Wynn. Until now craps was an oddity in Macau. It was hard to train people for, and the game was deemed to be too foreign. One rumor I kept hearing was that the Lisboa for years hand an intermittent craps game going, and to add to the myth of "craps in Macau" the Lisboa game did not allow wrong bets (don't Pass, don't Come).

The introduction of the game is pretty recent, so I hope the staff I encountered were still a little green and hopefully will grow into it. All of the dealers were local, and went through about a three-week crash course by each casino by their best from Vegas. This still was not enough. Every dealer seemed unsure about parts of the game. I even had a frightful, yet friendly, exchange with a boxman about when the bets get paid off or lost. I was told by multiple people to keep a close eye on our odds payoffs for errors, and yes I found a couple. What I am most concerned about is speed. The number of rolls an hour seems to be 25-50% less than what I remember in Vegas. This means the tables are making that much less, and makes me worry about the future of the game in Macau.

An odd thing that struck me that I think the casinos recruited their craps dealers not only on technical ability, but personality. This makes some sense with craps being a game with its own group psychology (or even mob psychology). The MGM had the friendliest dealers. The Wynn had some of the most outgoing, but in a way that's hard to describe to one who has not been in Asia for an appreciable amount of time. It's that cutesy "Hello Kitty" enthusiasm. The Venetian had the coldest, but without the technical ability to back it up. To be fair to the Venetian, they had some of the most crowded tables I saw.

The cultural reaction to the game is quite interesting. One observation by some of the foreigners that craps lacked the elements of luck and superstition that Chinese gamblers like. This amused me because I find in the US, outside senile penny slot players, nobody is more superstitious than craps players. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! However I will concede that they betting is different than most Asian games. It is more complicated, and some of the Chinese gamblers I briefly talked to favored win/loss action on every roll. The wait to make a point did not appeal. Finally, it was amusing to see occasionally some guy trying to apply his baccarat counting method to craps.

My conclusion is craps will stay in Macau. The interest is definitely there. However, I think it will be more of boutique game. Ironically, craps to Macau may be what baccarat is Vegas, and vice versa. They key will be to train and maintain good and fast dealers.

There are more odds and ends that I cannot really recall. Ask me anything!


Read archived comments (7 so far)
June 19, 2008 2:07 PM Posted by Mungroo

Nice report. A couple of questions.

1. How prevalent is spoken English in Macau and in the casinos specifically?

2. Is blackjack popular in Macau casinos? Any different rules of is it standard stuff?

June 19, 2008 2:08 PM Posted by chuckmonster

Thanks for sharing this great report, particularly the bits on MGM and the craps situation. Galaxy Grand Waldo on Cotai also has a craps game going and it is quite slow as well.

I completely agree with your descriptions of Crown Taipa's casino being sterile. I had attributed it's "Brand New Sneaker-ness" to the property being open barely open a month or so when I had visited. It should be noted that Crown is NOT a mass market casino, it is a junket operator baccarat lounge. This is exactly what it was always supposed to be, although it took 10 months for the junket business to roll up and flourish. When I was there - pre-AMAX deal in Sept 07 - there were numerous BJ, SicBo and roulette tables. They've removed a lot of these, plus most of the slots to make room for more junket capacity.

For the mass market Vegas-type of player, the Greek Mythology across the street is an infinitely more enjoyable low-rent experience. Gorgeous is not equal to fun. The standard rooms and service on the hotel side of Crown - as I hope were clearly noted in MacauTripping's three part review of the property - are truly something to behold, and something a casual casino visitor has little chance to experience.

Thanks for the great report. I got the Macau humidity sweats just reading it. :D

June 19, 2008 2:50 PM Posted by chuckmonster

English is spoken at all major visitor touch points in the higher end hotels. The dealers are a different story altogether. I spent 8 days in Macau and didn't have any major problems regarding language.

The rules for blackjack are essentially the same as in Vegas although the game process varies depending on the casino you go to. I documented a game at Casino Lisboa here:

June 19, 2008 3:36 PM Posted by Dram_man

Mungroo> English by-and-large is no problem. Blackjack as I recall paid 2-3. Mins at HK100 (about $12.50). Everyone used continuous shuffle machines form what I recall. Its not my game so I did not pay too much attention to it.

Putting the two together however makes me say something slightly different. The BJ players I once knew took a good deal of enjoyment of the game from interacting with the dealer. I would not expect such in Macau.

Chuck> Ah yes the humidity. That was another random observation, Macau brings home something oft said in Vegas " least its a dry heat."

Describing the Crown as an up scale baccarat lounge is apt. A note there, I was told that one reason for the Crown's success is they give credit. Credit which is unenforceable. There is a big worry that the Crown has some really bad debt.

When it comes to the GM Casino, I hate to play the "old Asia hand" card, but I think its part of it. I have seen too much of low-budget facsimiles. I can see how somebody visiting can regale in the cheap cheesiness, but its not really my scene. It does have going for it however decent cocktail waitresses. However, this is Macau so I use those terms loosely.

Which reminds me, one day I got to tell the story of being humiliated by the MGM staff. I am still steaming a bit from it.

July 9, 2008 5:12 AM Posted by detroit1051

The July 9 WSJ reports that Galaxy has entered into a deal with a junket operator to provide customers for up to 100 high-roller tables at Galaxy's StarWorld. The article says, "The emergence of mega-junkets is causing such concern for casino operators that they have urged the Macau government to set a limit on the size of commissions that junket operators can earn."
What impact will this have on WYNN and LVS?
I can't link it, but if you have a subscription, here it is:

July 10, 2008 7:24 AM Posted by Chris B

the macau government has just set a 1.25% limit on junket commissions

October 11, 2008 8:05 PM Posted by Jason


Do you remember what the minimum bets were for the craps tables at the different locations you played at?