Macau is, without a doubt, the gambling hub of Asia. The region brought in 45 billion USD in 2013, whereas Las Vegas brings in about 6.5 billion USD a year. I say region because Macau is similar to Hong Kong in that it’s not really part of China but not really its own country. Some people would argue here and say it’s part of China, but it’s not communist, I can still get on Facebook there and U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to get in to the country, so for tourist purposes I feel like it’s not China.
Regardless, the comparison often made between Las Vegas, Nevada and Macau is based on their huge gambling industries; however, the experiences in both places could not be more different. Even though Macau surpassed Vegas in terms of gambling revenue back in 2006, it’s a stretch to compare the vastly different places.
Drinking culture of Vegas & Macau
Vegas is pretty well known for their drinking culture. How are the casinos going to make sure that you make horrible gambling decisions if they aren’t serving you free drinks while you gamble? Well, in Macau it’s different. Most casinos in Macau won’t let you drink on the gambling floor. They offer free tea, coffee, juice and milk. I’ve read that some of the major U.S. casinos (the Four Seasons, MGM, and the Wynn) in Macau do allow you to drink on the floor, but most of the casinos restrict drinking to the restaurants.
History is a big part of Macau, while absent in Vegas
Have you ever heard anyone mention Vegas and history in the same sentence? No way! When we talk about Vegas we talk about gambling, clubs, alcohol but Vegas actually has a pretty weird history. Originally Native American land some 10,000 years ago and at one point a Mormon community, Vegas grew into what we know it as today because of the construction of the Hoover dam in the 1930s. The casinos and showgirl theaters were originally developed, with help from the Mafia, to entertain the construction workers of the dam. What? Vegas is kind of crazy outcome of building a huge concrete wall!
On the other hand, Macau’s history is celebrated and cannot be overlooked while visiting the region. Macau was colonized by the Portuguese in 1550. There’s this awesome mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture ruminating through the city (think Chinese pork buns on soft Portuguese rolls, yum!) Steps away from Macau’s biggest casinos are the ruins of Saint Paul’s church, UNESCO World Heritage site, a lot of the streets still hold their Portuguese names, while some locals speak both Portuguese and Cantonese.
Security is tight in Macau
As long as you’re not passed out on the floor or counting cards at the blackjack table, you’re pretty much not going to be bothered by the security in Vegas. Funny story actually, my dad got kicked out of a casino in Vegas twice in the same weekend because they thought he was some other guy who had been kicked out before. They wouldn’t let him back into his room until he finally talked to someone above the security guard who kicked him out- this is also a great way to get excellent drinks and great service for the rest of the weekend. On the other hand, the security guards in Macau yelled at us for crossing the parking lot in the wrong place and for taking a photo by the slot machines- the guy actually took my phone and made sure I deleted the photo.
Macau brings in more money but less people
Macau’s annual visitors are about 10 million less than Vegas and it’s noticeable. When you walk into the casinos in Macau, they feel empty even on New Year’s weekend. Macau brings in less people but these people spend a hell of lot more money than the gamblers in Vegas. The people in Macau are serious gamblers. The high roller areas are pretty full but you won’t find anyone at the 5 cent slots (aka where I’m always at). Also, card games in Macau have an incredibly high minimum bet of around 38 USD, it’s no wonder they’re earning more money.
Entertainment in Vegas is like no other
The shows in Vegas are comparable to those in LA and on Broadway. Nowhere else in the world can you see Celine Dion, Cirque Du Soleil and a parody of 50 Shades (yes, this is real) in the same weekend. Also everything in Vegas is over the top, huge buffets, fountains and hotels made to look like international landmarks. While Macau boasts of some laid back bars but it has only three main clubs and not much to say in terms of famous performances.
Macau is cleaner than Vegas
There’s literally no trash anywhere in Macau. In Vegas, you get used to seeing trashy and X-rated advertisement fliers on the ground outside. Every once in a while you’ll walk by an empty beer or liquor bottle as you walk around. But Macau is spotless. There’s also just generally not a lot of people outside of the casinos, whereas walking down the Vegas strip is an attraction on its own.
I read something that says that Macau makes Vegas look like Reno. In terms of gambling money, it sure does but if we look at the overall Vegas experience, it couldn’t be more different. They both have a lot of casinos and a lot of high priced shopping but they are culturally very different. If you’re looking for some serious gambling and some rich interesting history head to Macau but if you want a crazy party like Vegas, opt for Bangkok or the full moon parties of Thailand.
Getting to Macau
Flights: There are direct flights into Macau International Airport from pretty much every big city in Asia. The region is fairly small so it shouldn’t take more than a 15 minute drive to get anywhere from the airport.
Boat: From Hong Kong, boats leave at least every hour from China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui or Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island. Tickets cost about 17 to 23 USD one way, economy class. You can also take the ferry directly from the airport when you arrive or from Shenzhen if you’re in mainland China. The ferry ride is about an hour and not too bumpy.
Getting around Macau is fairly easy. There are free casino shuttle buses that pick up at the ferry terminal and the airport and drop off at the major hotels. Uber also works in Macau.
Getting to Vegas
Flights: In case this post inspired you to jet off to Vegas, McCarran International Airport has flights arriving from pretty much any location you can think of. Spirit, Southwest and Frontier typically have the cheapest flights.
Bus: Megabus offers cheap bus tickets to Vegas from Los Angeles and Anaheim, California for as low as 5 USD one way. The trip takes about five and a half hours.
Have you ever been to Macau or Vegas? Do you think they are different or similar? Please comment below with your thoughts!