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Away from the game

Written by Andrew W Scott

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Macau is an amazing place – a gambling-driven tourist mecca that so far this year has drawn an average of 87,000 visitors every single day. The predominant attraction by far is gambling in our 31 operating casinos, but Macau is slowly diversifying its leisure offerings to include more non-gaming options for our guests. WGM’s CEO Andrew W Scott takes a look at the current and future trends of the Macau experience “away from the game”.

Once upon a time Las Vegas was all about gambling. But as the industry matured and competition between the casinos intensified, the properties looked for more and more ways to differentiate themselves from each other. This phenomenon really took off in the 1990s with an enormous range of non-gaming attractions exploding on to the scene. At one point Las Vegas even saw itself being marketed as a “family friendly” destination, with theme parks and rollercoaster rides for the kids and a countless array of stage shows and sights to see for the adults.

The early entrepreneurs who laid the foundations for Las Vegas would turn in their graves at the news, but it’s now a fact that over 50 percent of revenue earned by Las Vegas’ Destination Integrated Resorts comes from non-gaming operations. Macau is still way behind that number with a mere five percent of revenue coming from non-gaming.

Macau is not Las Vegas and it never will be – and that’s a good thing. But Macau can learn some valuable lessons from Las Vegas’ history and evolution as an adult playground. Just as Vegas saw a rise in the importance of non-gaming tourist attractions, so will Macau. This will happen for three reasons. First of all both the Macau and Central Chinese governments are pushing the operators to diversify into non-gaming and keeping both governments happy is in the best interest of the operators. Secondly it’s a great way for the operators to differentiate themselves from each other, which in turn gives them something to market as a point of difference. Lastly, with both mainland China and Hong Kong banning gambling advertising, non-gaming activities give the operators something they can market in these two source markets – which combined account for 87 percent of visitors to Macau.

Let’s take a look at the non-gaming offerings of what we here at WGM term the “BIG9” – the nine Destination Integrated Resorts that have opened their doors in Macau since the “new Macau” got underway in 2004.


When people think of non-gaming they immediately focus on hotels rooms, dining, entertainment, shopping and the like. But in many ways the most striking non-gaming offering of Macau is, er, Macau itself. The actual physical place. There is some amazing architecture and some incredible buildings in our fair city. Since this article is about the non-gaming offerings to be found inside the Destination Resorts I’ll leave the incredible sights and architecture outside the casinos for another day, but even leaving all the beautiful old Portuguese mosaic footpaths and pastel-colored buildings aside there is a real wow factor lying in store for any visitor to Macau.

When it was built, the Venetian Macao was the second-largest building in the world by floor area and even today it is still in the top five. Wynn Macau’s performance lake with its dancing jets of water and billowing fire is a must-see. Galaxy Macau’s Fortune Diamond in its main lobby pulls an eager crowd every 30 minutes or so. Love it or hate it, the lotus-shaped 43-storey Grand Lisboa can’t go unmissed. And walking into the main lobby of the Venetian for the first time is an awe-inspiring experience.

Wynn’s golden Tree of Prosperity is a must-do for every first-time traveller to Macau, as is viewing the laserama light show emanating from Galaxy Macau’s rooftop every 15 minutes in the evening. And while many complain of getting lost inside City of Dreams’ labyrinth-like interior, you certainly can’t miss the bright blue lights “trickling” down the buildings’ exteriors once the sun goes down.

For those who enjoy the sunshine without wanting to endure the wind or rain that comes with being out in the elements, MGM’s Grande Praça is the place to go. And for a free look at some amazing ancient Chinese artefacts worth millions of dollars just head to Grand Lisboa’s lobby. All these sights and “wow features” (as they are known in the industry) go towards creating “Brand Macau”.


Some of the best 5-star (and 6-star) hotel rooms in the world are in Macau. And with “only” 29,000 hotel rooms in Macau (compared to Las Vegas’ more than 150,000 rooms) and six new multi-billion dollar resorts slated to be built in the next three years you can expect to see a lot more hotel rooms open their doors.

Sands China Limited (SCL) is the undisputed king in terms of hotel room inventory with around 8,500 hotel rooms between Sands Macao (self-branded), Venetian Macao (self-branded and Four Seasons) and Sands Cotai Central (Conrad, Sheraton and Holiday Inn). There’s even 16 little-known but sumptuous “Plaza Mansions” hidden above SCL’s uber-luxurious Plaza casino connected to the south end of the main Venetian property. I can assure you the Plaza Mansions are fit for royalty. But if the Louis XIII property scheduled to open in 2016 lives up to the hype it will have the most magnificent hotel rooms Macau has ever seen. Think Versailles in Macau.

In recent years rooms have been hard to come by and also far too expensive, but expect that problem to ease as a serious amount of new hotel room stock starts coming online from early next year.


Each and every food and beverage outlet in Macau is worthy of its own separate article – and in fact every issue of WGM has just that with our Panda review.

There are hundreds of great restaurants in Macau but there are a few absolute stand-outs worthy of individual mention. Leading the pack is Grand Lisboa’s three-Michelen-starred Robuchon au Dôme. Grand Lisboa is also home to The Kitchen (one Michelin Star) and The Eight (promoted to three Michelin Stars this year). Both of these restaurants are absolutely superb and of course as with all Lisboa and Grand Lisboa F&B outlets you have access to one of the largest wine cellars in the world.

Our vote for the best Italian restaurant in Macau goes to Il Teatro at Wynn Macau. For the best steak in Macau, head to Morton’s at the Venetian Macao (apologies to Copa at Sands Macao). The Tasting Room at City of Dreams, although a little pricey, is quite an experience and for the best Indian food in town go no further than Golden Peacock at Venetian. Belon at Banyan Tree at Galaxy Macau is absolutely superb – and is actually the subject of the Panda review in this very issue of WGM (see page 50).

There are also some great watering holes in Macau’s BIG9. Two standouts are Lion’s Bar at MGM and Bellini at Venetian Macao. As always in Macau, Wednesday night is ladies night and often worthy of a special trip for just that reason. For something a little classier than the rest head to the Macallan Bar or China Rouge, both at Galaxy Macau. We’ve written about China Rouge before so visit our website and search “China Rouge” to read all about it.


Part of how Las Vegas made its name was by being home to the greatest entertainers in the world. It started in the 1960s with the most famous name actors of their time, the “Rat Pack”, being Vegas regulars.

The Rat Pack was led by Frank Sinatra and included A-list celebrities Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

Headliners since then have read like a who’s who of international entertainment luminaries. Elvis Presley, David Copperfield, Tom Jones, Penn & Teller, Wayne Newton, Siegfried & Roy, Celine Dion and Liberace (he was gay? who knew?) have all been Vegas regulars over the years.

But entertainment in Vegas hasn’t just been limited to performing headliners. Throughout the decades Las Vegas has been the go-to city for the greatest boxing matchups in the world. Names like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Michael Spinks, Manny Pacquiao, Evander Holyfield, Sugar Ray Leonard and of course Mike Tyson spring to mind, as does the always colorful antics of legendary promoters Don King and Bob Arum.

Macau has been keen to emulate the big name entertainment and events tactic to get its brand name internationally recognized. Given that the Venetian Macao’s 15,000-seat Cotai Arena is the only Macau venue currently big enough to host major A-list international acts and fights, it has been Venetian leading the charge in this regard. In recent years we’ve seen both UFC and Bob Arum-promoted fights. We’ve seen Manny Pacquiao and Zou Shiming show off their skills. We’ve seen South Korean icons Super Junior and Girls’ Generation. We’ve seen the Rolling Stones, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. We’ve even seen dirt bikes flying through the air as part of the internationally acclaimed “Nitro Circus“.

Cotai Arena has also been home to major world-class tennis and basketball events and of course we cannot leave the City of Dreams’ resident show House of Dancing Water off the list. The House of Dancing Water is the first major resident show to be a huge success in Macau, but it won’t be the last. And of course there is really only one place to go clubbing – Club Cubic at City of Dreams.

How the BIG9 stack up Venetian (SCL) Sands Cotai Central (SCL) Sands Macao (SCL) Galaxy Macau (GEG)
Architecture and WOW Features Stunning main lobby, the largest casino in the world, grand canals Paradise gardens, bronze and gold God of Fortune statue Largest chandelier in the world Gold Leaf Cupolas, Fortune Diamond, Wishing Crystals
Hotels and rooms 2,905 4,000 (Conrad 600; Holiday Inn 1,400; Sheraton 2,000) 289 2,115 (Galaxy Hotel 1,449; Hotel Okura 410; Banyan Tree Hotel 256
Food and beverage 50 restaurants including North, Portofino, Morton’s The Steakhouse and Bambu. A large selection of Chinese, Asian and Western options. 21 restaurants and fast food outlets including Dynasty 8. Nine food outlets ranging from Copa Steakhouse to fast food outlets McDonald’s and KFC. 38 food outlets including flagship seafood restaurant Belon, fast food outlets and a range of Chinese and Asian options.
Entertainment Cotai Arena (15,000 seats), The Venetian Theatre, Bellini Lounge Sands Theatre, Xanadu Lounge Wave pool, Galaxy Laserama, UA Galaxy Cinemas, China Rouge
Retail The Grand Canal Shoppes Over 140 retail shops 17 luxury jewelry shops including Swatch, Piaget and Swarovski plus 12 other retail outlets
Spas Taivexmalo Day Hospital & Spa (9,000 square meters) Bodhi Spa, Shine Spa for Sheraton Sands Spa & Salon Banyan Tree Spa, Foot Hub
Outdoors Grado “Mini” Golf, Venetian Pools Conrad Macao Pool Deck, Holiday Inn pool and three diverse swimming pools at Sheraton Macao Hotel Pool Grand Resort Deck
MICE Cotai Expo (75,000 square meters) 20,000 square metres of meetings and convention space Ball rooms
How the BIG9 stack up StarWorld (GEG) Grand Lisboa (SJM City of Dreams (Melco) Wynn Macau (Wynn) MGM (MGM)
Architecture and WOW Features Lotus-shaped building, ancient Chinese artifacts displayed Bubble Fountain, Dragon’s Treasure Performance Lake, Tree of Prosperity Grande Praça, MGM Art Space
Hotels and rooms 505 431 1,217 (Hard Rock 322; Grand Hyatt 609; Crown Towers 286) 1,014 (Wynn Macau 600; Encore 414) 582
Food and beverage Temptations, Sensations, Laurel, Jade de Jardin Restaurant, Lobby lounge, Whisky Bar. 8 restaurants including both of Macau’s only threestarred Michelin restaurants − Robuchon au Dôme and The Eight − plus one-starred Michelin restaurant The Kitchen. 34 restaurants, bars and cafés including Michelin-starred restaurants Jade Dragon and The Tasting Room. Golden Flower, Mizumi, Risorante Il Teatro, Wing Lei, 99 Noodles, Café Encore, Café Esplanada, Red 8, Bar Crystal, Cinnebar, Wing Lei lounge. Aux Beaux Arts, Rossio, Imperial Court, Square Eight, Grand Imperial Court, Pastry Bar, Lion’s Bar, ABA Bar.
Entertainment Main Lobby entertainment, Whiskey Bar DJs Crazy Paris Show House of Dancing Water, Taboo, Cubic Tree of Prosperity, Dragon of Fortune Lion’s Bar
Retail 16 luxury fashion shops and a further 20 retail stores 25 luxury fashion shops at Wynn Esplanade and four more at Encore Esplanade 200,000 square feet of retail space at One Central with 23 luxury fashion shops
Spas Lisboa Spa by Clarins, Le Salon Isala Spa, Rock Spa, Crown Spa The Spa At Wynn, The Spa at Encore Six Senses Spa
Outdoors Infinity swimming pool The Pool at Hard Rock, The Pool at Grand Hyatt, Fitness centre and tennis court at Grand Hyatt Pool and cabanas Infinity pool
MICE Ball room Ball room 8,000 square meters of meeting space 2,000 square meters Ball room


There’s only one resort with a movie option in Macau and that is Galaxy Macau with its UA Cinemas. There are 10 screens at UA including five boutique Director’s Clubs each with between 16 and 22 seats. Grab a bunch of friends and book out the whole cinema!


In Asia, shopping seems to be a national sport for many of the fairer sex. There is certainly no shortage of retail options in the Macau BIG9! Again it is Sands China Ltd leading the way with nearly 600 shops as part of their “Shoppes Cotai” offering. For the very top designer brands head to the Shoppes at Four Seasons, Wynn Macau’s retail offering or One Central which is connected to MGM.

Dior, Chanel, Prada, Vivienne Westwood, Cerruti, Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Max Mara, Bally, Hugo Boss, La Perla and Jimmy Choo are just some of the big names on offer. With all the luxury fashion to wade through, don’t forget the many watch and jewellery outlets you’ll come across too.


You’ve come here for a holiday. What better way to totally relax than to hit the spa? There are some magnificent six star spas in Macau’s BIG9. They aren’t cheap but they are a great way to spend half a day. Whether it is a facial, a massage or wrapping yourself up in some kind of sand or mud or clay or salt or whatever they think of next, you’re bound to come out the other side relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated.

My favorites include the spa at Banyan Tree at Galaxy Macau and Six Senses at MGM. There are also some other gems outside the BIG9 but let’s save those for another day.


Over the last few decades international leisure tourism has seen a shift away from natural environments like mountains, forests and sun, sand and surf. Artificial or manufactured environments are the new black and with Macau’s questionable weather for much of the year that might not be such a bad thing. Having said that there is nothing wrong with getting outside sometimes and enjoying the sun and fresh air. There are two golf courses in Macau but neither is at an Integrated Resort.

The primary outdoor activity in Macau’s BIG9 is hitting the pool! And the granddaddy of them all has to be the wave pool at Galaxy’s Grand Resort Deck, complete with its own custom-made sandy beach shipped in to the property. Having enjoyed it a few times I can thoroughly recommend a “day at the beach” on a rooftop! A word of warning though – it can get crowded there on the weekends so stick to weekdays if you can.


The last non-gaming offering on our list isn’t normally considered a leisure activity at all. Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (always referred to as MICE in the industry) is a separate sector of the business tourism market. It’s been a huge part of the Las Vegas story, especially in the 1980s, when the world’s then-largest computer trade show, COMDEX, would see about 200,000 delegates attend the floor of the show.

And who owned COMDEX? None other than one Mr Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Sands China Ltd. This goes some way to explaining the enormous amount of MICE space available for hire at Venetian Macao, some 75,000 square meters. Sands Cotai Central also has serious MICE space as do all the other properties to a greater or lesser extent.

While I expect Macau to mirror Las Vegas in several ways, the utilization of MICE space is not one of them. Macau has some serious shortcomings as a MICE-friendly city. The travel infrastructure is still poor and Hong Kong and Singapore have much more logical MICE offerings for most companies.