How Macau rose from gambling minnow and the families it's enriched

The minnow that took on and beat Vegas just keeps getting bigger, as annual rich list proves

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 5:01am

Buoyed by big-spending mainland tourists, Macau, the world's largest gambling hub by revenue, has just enjoyed its biggest and best ever year - raking in over seven times more than the Las Vegas Strip and propelling casino owners up the rich lists.

The former Portuguese enclave's gaming industry banked 360.75 billion patacas last year, up 18.6 per cent year on year. That compares with 188 billion patacas recorded in 2010.

Macau, with 35 casinos and resorts, including the world's largest casino, has cemented its dominance as No1 gambling hub in the world, according to Grant Govertsen, lead analyst at Union Gaming Group.

"Macau has surpassed all other major jurisdictions by such a wide margin, that even if you combined the gaming revenues from the rest of the top 10 gaming destinations in the world, their combined gaming revenue would still be less than the gaming revenue in Macau," Govertsen said. Hong Kong casino owners have benefitted from this jackpot, including Galaxy Entertainment chairman Lui Che-woo. He saw his net worth swell by US$11.5 billion to US$21 billion, propelling him to second from fifth in the Forbes Hong Kong Rich List.

The family of Stanley Ho Hung-sun, led by daughter Pansy Ho Chiu-king, banked another US$2.9 billion to take their worth to US$6.8 billion. A shake-up of the industry in 2002 ended Stanley Ho's four decade-long gaming monopoly, at a time when total gaming revenue was just 23.5 billion patacas.

Once liberalisation kicked in, it took only four years for Macau's gaming revenue to surpass that of the Vegas Strip. It has become a global gaming juggernaut, aided by the fact it is the only destination in China where casino gambling is legal.

The statistics are startling because on just about every measure Macau looks the underdog.

It is crammed into just 30 square kilometres, whereas Nevada, home to Las Vegas, has 287,000 square kilometres. Still, the Silver State's 263 casinos generated US$10 billion from gaming last year - plunging the industry to a US$1.3 billion loss.

There are 14,700 slot machines in Macau casinos, down 2,000 from their peak as they make way for more lucrative gaming tables. Nevada has more than 160,000 slots.

While final figures are expected to show Macau welcomed 29.5 million visitors last year, the Las Vegas Strip welcomed more than 40 million.

Govertsen is willing to gamble that Macau's success will hold fast. He bets Lui "could in short order" overtake Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, at the top of the rich list "given the robust growth anticipated".