For many decades, a corner of the Nevadan desert has held the crown as the world’s number-one gaming destination. The bright lights of Las Vegas, also known as “Sin City,” have been home to some of the best gaming resorts on the planet. Unfortunately for Vegas, times change. There is a new kid on the block for casino gaming – and it’s thousands of miles away from Nevada. The special administrative region of Macau now holds claim to being the world’s leading gaming destination in terms of revenue generated.

This city-state off the southern coast of mainland China has long boasted a rich casino gaming heritage that dates back to the mid-19th century. Macau is formerly a Portuguese colony, which was used as a strategic location to improve trade links between the Mediterranean and the Far East. Macau was returned to the hands of the Chinese government on the eve of the new Millennium, which gave the People’s Republic a chance to overhaul the city’s casino scene which was threatened of being overrun by the city’s seedy underbelly of unscrupulous gangs.

What helped clean up Macau’s casino industry was the government’s decision to accept outward investment in the city. As the dotcom boom arrived, gaming revenues had dried up a little in Macau towards the end of the previous Millennium. The growing accessibility of real money casino operators online meant that visiting land-based casinos in the city was less of a necessity.

A little piece of Vegas in Macau

However, from 2001, overseas companies were able to compete for casino licenses to establish themselves in Macau. That year, casino gaming taxes equated to 40% of all tax revenues in Macau. Fast forward a decade and that figure has more than doubled, underlining the importance of the gaming industry to the Macanese. Much of that is due to the arrival of some of the biggest names in Las Vegas. The Venetian has made its way to Macau, providing the world’s largest gaming floor space in the process. There’s also Wynn, MGM, and Las Vegas Sands now operational here, bringing the total number of active casinos in the city to 39.

When you consider that the city is only 30 square kilometers in size, it’s clear that casinos have become a way of life here. The locals rely on jobs in the casinos to pay their bills, even though they aren’t allowed to visit and play themselves out of working hours. It’s also important to compare the kind of revenues generated in Macau’s casinos with those in Las Vegas. In 2016, casino revenues were more than $28 billion in Macau, compared with just $6.3 billion in Vegas. In the case of Las Vegas, the changing dynamic of Sin City is one of the main reasons why gaming revenues have stagnated. Although its casino resorts are still just as popular with tourists, the city’s increasing focus on other forms of entertainment and fine dining means that gaming is no longer the only priority.

What drives most of the gaming revenues in Macau’s casinos? You’d be surprised. Unlike poker, blackjack, and roulette in Vegas, Macau’s casino-goers are simply besotted by baccarat. In fact, around nine-tenths of all gaming revenue generated in the city-state is derived from “high-roller” baccarat players. Baccarat might be a completely unknown game to some of our readers. It’s a two-card game that is largely based on luck and fate. Given that Chinese gamblers are superstitious in almost everything they do at the tables, it’s unsurprising that baccarat resonates so well with them.

Understanding Macau’s story

There’s a lot to like about Macau away from the glitz and glamor of its casino floors too. Given its Portuguese heritage, Macau is widely regarded as the world’s first “fusion” city – a place where west truly does meet east. Mediterranean architecture abounds in Macau’s central region, with the Senado Square a wonderful centerpiece featuring vibrant, colorful mosaics. It would also be wrong not to mention the word fusion without discussing the Macanese dining scene. The city is awash with Mediterranean and Asian flavors, which helps to create a truly unique dining experience. Local delicacies such as pork chop buns, Portuguese egg tarts, and the wholesome dish of Minchi are all excellent snacks to eat on the go.

Despite being the most densely populated city on the planet, you’d be surprised to hear that Macau is also a very popular beach resort. The city is famed for its black sand beach, called Hac Sa Beach. The darkness in the sand is said to derive from the minerals in the water, which is lighter than other beaches in volcanic areas, such as Hawaii. In summary, once you scratch beneath the surface, Macau is a multi-faceted city. Although it might be leading the way in terms of gaming, its history and culture make it a go-to destination for newcomers to visiting China.