In the dance of dominance over the world’s gambling heartbeat, Macau twirls on the floor with an enviable poise, leaving its American counterpart, Las Vegas, watching from the sidelines. For over a decade and a half, this glittering Chinese enclave has held the title of the gambling capital of the world with the élan of a seasoned cardshark concealing a royal flush.
\*The Wynn\* resort, an icon bathed in the allure of opulence, isn’t nestled amid the neon canyons of Nevada but thrives instead on the bustling shores of Macau, China. A silent testament to a seismic shift, where the East quietly eclipsed the West.
Sin City’s reign as the mecca of hedonistic excess came to an uncertain halt back in 2006. That year, Macau gently but firmly ousted Las Vegas from its gambling throne by generating $6.95 billion in gross gambling revenue (GGR), nudging ahead of Vegas’ $6.69 billion. The gap has done nothing but widen in the years that followed. By 2019, Macau’s annual gambling revenue had ballooned to an astonishing $36 billion, dwarfing Las Vegas’ more modest sum of $6.6 billion.
In a move soaked in irony, the company that once basked in the neon glow of the Vegas strip, owned by the late billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has since cast its lot exclusively with Macau and Singapore – even as it clings to the moniker of Las Vegas Sands. In an epic deal concluded last year, the company parted ways with its Venetian roots, along with the Palazzo and Venetian Expo, selling them to Apollo Global Management and VICI Properties for a cool $6.25 billion.
This small, flashing jewel of a port city, Macau – alternatively spelled Macao – is a former Portuguese colony whispering tales of empire near the vibrant sprawl of Hong Kong. Since its return to China’s fold in 1999, Macau has morphed into the new frontier for those hungry for the adrenaline of chance. After a gaming monopoly once held dearly by Stanley Ho – the storied “King of Macau” – lapsed in 2002, the city has been transformed into an oasis for luxury casinos and sumptuous hotels, funded to the tune of $20 billion by entertainment tycoons like Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, and MGM Resorts. And amid this glittering excess, the betting tables of Macau, lavishly adorned, harvest approximately seven times the earnings of those in Las Vegas, as marveled at by a 2007 New York Times report.
By 2019, Macau constituted a whopping 70% and 66% of Wynn’s and Las Vegas Sands’ businesses, respectively. Numbers that command attention.
\*The Pandemic Technicality\*
Then, history held its breath as a pandemic enveloped the globe, and Macau was not spared. Beijing’s “zero COVID” policy meant painfully strict quarantine restrictions that saw Macau’s thriving tourism numbers plummet from 39 million visitors in 2019 to a paltry 5.9 million the next year. Adding salt to the wound? A crackdown on junkets, further stifling the flow of money and people.
GGR in Macau plummeted to $7.56 billion in 2020, a pittance compared to its former glory, allowing Las Vegas to claim a tepid victory with $7.87 billion, its own lowest in a quarter-century. But an emperor dethroned only momentarily regains its crown with ease. China resumed quarantine-free travel, Macau dropped all barriers, and just like that, in the first half of 2023, the dragon reclaimed its throne with nearly $10 billion in GGR, leaving Las Vegas lagging behind at $7.5 billion.
Barring cataclysm, Macau’s ascension seems a surer bet than any wager placed within its luxurious gambling halls—proof once more that what happens in Macau doesn’t just stay there; it reverberates across the world.