If you build it: they will come. In the film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner had a vision and built a baseball diamond in a corn field. Gamblers built Las Vegas, Macau, and Atlantic City – and they came, and came, and came. Whatever your position on the pros and cons of gambling, its material legacy is impressive: cities of neon, showcases of opulence, temples of excess.
In these troubled times, with climate disaster and nationalism looming on the horizon, huge cities like Las Vegas and Macau are bastions of the gloriously banal. There is no deep history or culture, no renaissance, no legacy in the making. What these places represent is the human ability to enjoy life. They are theatres of fun, of gastronomy, of art, of excess and indulgence; a reassuring reminder that life can be just … fun.
Located 37 miles west of Hong Kong, on China’s southern coast, Macau is surrounded by the South China Sea. With a population of 667,400 crammed into a total surface area of just 12.7 square miles, it is the most densely populated region in the world. A former colony of Portugal until 1999, Macau is the planet’s #1 destination for gambling tourism. Las Vegas doesn’t even come close. Macau’s gaming industry revenue is a staggering seven times larger than its western cousin.
In 1999, Portugal agreed to transfer the colony back to China, on the condition that its political and economic systems would be guaranteed for 50 years. The casino industry was now free from a government licensed monopoly and could welcome outside investors. From 2002 to 2014, Macau’s economy grew at a double-digit annual growth rate. It rapidly became one of the world’s richest economies per capita.
Macau is now home to some of the world’s biggest casinos. The Venetian Macao and the City of Dreams have nearly one million square feet of gaming space between them. Combined: a total of 1200 gaming tables and more than 3,000 slots. If you love your slots, an hour spent on each game would have you playing non-stop for 125 days – and that’s just two of the 36 landmark casinos in this remarkable destination. In 2018, total gaming revenue in Macau reached $38 billion – a 13.7% year-on-year increase. There are always plans for new casinos and Macau is reclaiming land from the sea to make space.
It’s Vegas, Baby…
Although Macau may trump Las Vegas in terms of revenue, when it comes to cities associated with gambling, casinos, and betting, there is only one true king: Las Vegas. There can’t be many people on the planet who have not heard of Las Vegas.
According to Google, there are at least 13 songs dedicated to the city, including Ooh Las Vegas by Gram Parsons and – of course – Viva Las Vegas by Mr Elvis Presley. There are more than 50 films that feature the city, including Oceans 11, Casino, the Hangover, and Diamonds are Forever. As for literature, the list is long and starts with the iconic masterpiece of madness by Hunter S Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is truly a city that was built on gambling. Literally translated, Las Vegas means ‘the meadows’. It earned the name from Spanish explorers who visited the valley to take advantage of the fresh water artesian wells. When the construction of the Hoover Dam started in 1931, the workers fuelled the demand for good times, girls and gambling. The mafia and a liberal Nevada legislature answered their call and Las Vegas was born. It’s never looked back.
Atlantic City and Monaco
Atlantic City is to Las Vegas what Baby Jane is to Blanche. From 1880 to the 1940s, Atlantic City was a major tourist destination but its star faded, as flights to Florida and the Caribbean took tourist business away in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1976, New Jersey voters approved legalizing gambling to encourage investment and reinvigorate the area. For a time it worked but – in the end – Atlantic City was the child star that lost its appeal; suffering from both declining popularity and damaging weather.
Monaco is a different kettle of chips. it’s evolution into one of the world’s greatest gambling destinations is thanks to shrewd Princess Caroline of the House of Grimaldi. To save her family from bankruptcy, she built the Monte Carlo Casino; a destination for Europe’s well-heeled and wealthy gamblers. It’s a luxurious setting and was the perfect play room for Ian Fleming’s iconic James Bond. The two combined to make Monte Carlo and Monaco an iconic gambling destination.
Temples of decadence or just good time destinations? Whatever way you spin it, the legacy is real.