In 2020, the tiny island of Macau is set to become the richest place on the planet. According to the International Monetary Fund, Macau will surpass Qatar as the location with the highest gross domestic product per person: an impressive $143,000 – compare that to the UK GDP per capita of just $39,720.
And what is it that puts the financial wow in Macau? The answer is simple: gambling.
Macau has some of the world’s most eye-catching casinos. Opulent, extravagant, palaces that make Las Vegas look like a poor relation. This is 21st century gambling: action with attitude. The Asian dragon; doubling down on decadence and raising the stakes, with a bet on bigger, brighter, and brasher.
Money and Macau
Most people would struggle to find Macau on a map but this former Portuguese colony punches above its weight, both culturally and financially. It’s the most densely populated place on earth, with a population of nearly 650,900 crammed into just 44.5 square miles. That’s a world-beating 48,003 people per square mile.
Although under the rule of the Chinese government since 1999, Macau is a separate entity, known as the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Portugal has ruled Macau since 1535. In 2019, it will be 20 years since the region was returned to China. The territory still retains a strong European heritage.
Macau also has the world’s longest sea bridge: the 34-mile Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge which connects the two territories and the province of Guangdong. The influx of visitors from mainland China continues to fuel the renaissance of Macau.
There are 38 casinos and nearly 80 hotels in Macau: a total of about 38,000 rooms. It may sound like a lot but it is nowhere near the amount necessary to satisfy the increase in demand. By comparison, Las Vegas has nearly 150,000.
Macau’s hotels extraordinaire
Although the quantity of hotels might be subject to scrutiny, the quality is second to none. The recently completed ‘The 13’ bills itself as the ‘world’s most exclusive’. There are 200 villas, all with private lifts and 24-hour butler service. You can even take advantage of the hotel’s fleet of red Rolls Royce Phantoms. Top rooms go for £65,000 a night.
The biggest casino in Macau is the Venetian Macau, with a staggering 3400 slots and 800 gaming tables. It’s also the biggest casino in the world and twice the size of its American sister. Also making a huge splash is the Wynn Palace. Built at a cost of $4.1 billion, this is luxury with style.
In 2020, a new hotel will open with replicas of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The Londoner Macau has even employed the creative services of David Beckham, who is collaborating on the design of the hotel’s English interiors. Expect the finest English tailoring, Beefeaters, and a Harrods franchise or two.
All these hotels sit on the Cotai Strip: a huge stretch of reclaimed land, resembling the Las Vegas strip, that is the home to many of Macau’s biggest casinos and hotels. With gambling generating more than 40% of the GDP of Macau and 70% of the local government’s tax income, the industry is driving the economy. Of course, Macau is just a reflection of the larger Asian economy, If the dragon falters, Macau’s luxury and tourism industry will be the first to feel the pain.
When the action at the casino gets too much, Macau has a diverse selection of cuisine to dive into. From a galaxy of Michelin-starred restaurants to the finest Portuguese egg custard tarts this side of Lisbon. There is even an unique local cuisine called Macanese that combines the food of Portugal and southern China. Star dishes include African chicken, pig’s ear and papaya salad, salt cod, pork chop buns, and tapas.
Culturally, the casinos compete for business with exhibitions, shows, and festivals. Macau might be brash and gaudy but the art – both new and ancient – it supports is often sublime. From the collection at the Wynn Palace to the gold exhibition at the MGM Grand Macau, there is always something wonderful to discover.
Macau’s renaissance is still in full swing. It lacks the elegance of Monaco and the cool of Las Vegas but it has a character all of its own: a triumphant celebration of the tiger economy and its new place in the world order. Unashamedly brazen, often vulgar, Macau is a destination worth discovering.