I’ve had meetings in Macau for the last couple of days. It is three and a half years since I have been here, and the place is almost unrecognisable. There are new bridges and ferry terminals, and so much of the sea between Taipa Island and Coloane Island has been reclaimed, that it is now one island (they have named the reclaimed land between the original islands as the ‘Cotai Strip’) – and there new casinos and megaresorts everywhere.
Macau now has the highest gambling turnover of anywhere in the world (it surpassed Las Vegas last year) and has the largest casino in the world (the Sands Macau).
We stayed at the Venetian on the Cotai Strip, which is the second largest building in the world. The shopping centre on the third floor is modelled after the canals of Venice. I usually find these sorts of places a bit tacky, but I have to say the Venetian has done it very well, and the way in which they have lit the ceilings to make it look like open sky was very clever (on close examination however, the sprinklers on the ceiling give the game away – but you have to look hard).
The picture below was taken from the shopping centre looking down into the casino:
Even on the Macau Peninsula – the older part of the city – there are more casinos springing up, the most impressive architecturally being the Grand Lisboa which has been constructed in the shape of a giant lotus flower.
The Grand Lisboa stands behind Macau’s original Lisboa Casino which looks rather small and tatty these days in comparison. I remember visiting the Lisboa many years ago and noticing all the Chinese prostitutes lined up between the gambling tables and the men’s toilets. I could never quite work out the significance of that, but they seem to have disappeared now.
I read somewhere that since the handover of Macau to China in 1999, the Triad gangsters that used to control prostitution in the territory had been run out of town, and that was also the reason why street violence had all but disappeared – the latter contributing to a significant upsurge in tourism (Macau now receives 25 million visitors a year – which is 50 times higher than its population).