The average gaming table in Macau grosses almost nine times the average one in Las Vegas, and the world’s highest grossing casino, the legendary Lisboa, brings in more than $7 million dollars per day. Small wonder that international casino groups have swarmed the region, driving Macau’s explosive double-digit growth during the past five years.
Gambling is lightly regulated, so there are only a few things to remember. No one under age 18 is allowed into casinos. Most casinos use Hong Kong dollars in their gaming and not Macau patacas. Minimum bets range from HKD$50,000 to HKD$100,000 per hand. You can get cash from credit cards and ATMs 24 hours a day, and every casino has a program to extend additional credit to frequent visitors. Most casinos don’t have strict dress codes outside of their VIP rooms, but you’re better off not wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts. Minimum bets for most tables are higher than Las Vegas, from MOP$50–MOP$100, but there are lower limits for slots and video gambling.
Chinese men and women have long embraced gambling, so many of Macau’s gamblers are truly hard-core. Average bets are in the hundreds of patacas per hand, and many people gamble until they’re completely exhausted or completely broke, usually the latter.
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The Classic Casinos
Macau’s casinos are geared to Asian gamblers, so most tables are dedicated to baccarat, fan-tan, and Asian dice games. There are few blackjack, poker, or roulette tables. Baccarat is by far the most popular game for Asian gamblers, so most casinos devote the majority of their floors to baccarat tables. Many Chinese gamblers believe that this is the fairest game, so they tend to make large bets. You can bet on four items: the player’s hand, the banker’s hand, tie hand, and pair. Though you can’t take the house — and there are maximum payouts — you’ll still see the biggest crowds and hear the loudest stirrings from the baccarat tables.
Big and Small (Dai-Siu) is a game based guessing values of three dice under a covered glass canister. You can bet on values, number combinations, and most commonly, “big” value or “small” value. Hear the collective groan when three-of-a-kind turns up, and the house takes all.
Fan-tan is an ancient Chinese game. The croupier (counter) plunges an inverted silver cup into a pile of porcelain buttons on the table. He then moves the cup containing a number of buttons to one side. After bets are placed, the cup is lifted and the buttons are counted off in groups of four until either one, two, three, or four buttons are left at the end of the count. Cash bets are placed on the table on the numerals one, two, three, or four; odds or evens; corners; or divisions between numbers.
Pacapio is basically a Chinese version of Keno. Tickets are printed with 80 Chinese characters and you select 10 characters to bet on from a computerized draw of 20 characters. There are six locations for Pacapio betting, the most popular being the Lisboa Betting Centre.
Pai kao has been a popular Chinese game since the 19th century. It’s played with dominoes and a revolving banker system where one player assumes the role of the house while the casino gets a percentage of all bets. The rules are complicated, and the game is offered at the Lisboa and a few other casinos.
Roulette is played using the European wheel with a single “0,” giving you a slightly better chance of winning over the American wheel with both a “0” and a “00” slot. You must exchange your cash or chips into special, roulette-only marker chips before playing, and then exchange these chips back to casino chips when leaving the table. This game isn’t very popular, so you’ll find, at most, one or two live tables plus a handful of electronic tables in the larger casinos.