This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of World Gaming magazine.
MGM may be one of the smaller of Macau’s BIG9* casinos when it comes to size, but when you talk about luxury and player loyalty the Golden Lion may have the loudest roar of them all.
History has shown us MGM has a retention rate the envy of many other Macau gaming properties. Once people discover the Golden Lion they love it, coming back again and again. MGM oozes luxury with its stylishly inviting interiors and offers every amenity a player could want. But before we talk about MGM Macau and all it has to offer, where did the story of MGM begin? Many of you will be surprised to learn it has nothing to do with gaming.
The history of the MGM name
Many movies old and new are ushered in by the majestic roar of Leo the Lion, with his head poking through MGM’s iconic production logo. Originally part of the logo of Goldwyn Pictures as far back as 1917, the famous roaring lion has become synonymous with the entertainment and casino industry all over the world. The tale of MGM is a fascinating 105-year-old story dating all the way back to 1907 when Louis B Mayer opened the Gem Theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is a media company which today focuses on film and television production and distribution. It was founded in the US in 1924 as a result of the merger of three even older companies: Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Mayer’s own Louis B Mayer Pictures. This monolithic entertainment and media giant has had enormous highs and lows over the last 88 years and hugely influenced the movie and television industry we know today.
The move to gaming
How did the name come to be associated with casinos? In 1969 the MGM movie studio was sold to Nevada millionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who coveted some key MGM real estate and also the glamour of the MGM name, which had been associated with the world’s most famous movie stars for almost half a century. Whilst MGM’s media operations continue to this day, Kerkorian also quickly attached the MGM name to his casino and property interests. In 1973 the movie-themed MGM Grand Hotel and Casino opened in Las Vegas, on the corner of the Las Vegas Strip and Flamingo Road. With 2,084 rooms it was one of the first ever “mega-resorts” and the world’s biggest hotel at the time. In 1985 the property was sold, re-named Bally’s and still stands today.
In 1993 Kerkorian outdid himself by opening the current MGM Grand in Las Vegas, also on the Las Vegas Strip, less than a mile south of his previous MGM Grand and once again with a movie theme. A deeply emerald green-colored mega-resort, at that time it was the world’s largest hotel with a stupendous 5,005 rooms. To celebrate the opening 5,005 green balloons were released, and inside each balloon was a voucher for a free night of accommodation.
MGM Grand Las Vegas could argue it has been one of the most influential casinos ever built. For many years the property was considered the gold standard for casinos. It was the venue for World Boxing title fights, and world-class chefs like Joel Robuchon, Michael Mina and Wolfgang Puck have opened restaurants there. It was one of the shooting locations for the 1997 cult classic movie Vegas Vacation. Even today, almost 20 years after it opened, the MGM Grand Las Vegas is the third largest hotel in the world.
MGM Mirage is born
Throughout the 1990s Steve Wynn had been building his Mirage corporate empire, starting with Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget, and growing to include such iconic properties as The Mirage, Treasure Island and eventually the company’s crowning glory, Bellagio. Many seasoned Vegas travelers still consider Bellagio the best casino in Las Vegas. Wynn then shocked the gaming world announcing he was selling out and the lucky purchaser was MGM. The MGM Mirage corporate empire was born, encompassing a string of big name properties including the Las Vegas icons of MGM Grand and Bellagio. The company has since expanded to include Las Vegas’ enormous City Center project, which is home to the luxurious 4,004-room Aria resort and casino, the latest candidate for the coveted title of “best casino in Las Vegas”.
The company goes global
MGM then got busy with the globalization of its business, moving towards important new markets and adding non-gaming properties to its portfolio. Asia has been at the heart of this expansion and when you talk about Asia you always look to China. As well as the MGM property in Macau, there are MGM branded properties in Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Sanya and Tianjin. There’s even a “Bellagio by MGM” property in Shanghai. This has been a huge step from a brand confidence perspective. Using historically gaming-related names like Bellagio and MGM in non-gaming hotels and resorts is a smart move and there are already MGM developments either under construction or planned for Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt, India and Vietnam.
In 2010, MGM Mirage changed its name to MGM Resorts International, further underlining its global and property focus. Today the company is a global gaming, property and resort brand and its revenue of nearly US$10 billion annually makes it the second largest gaming company in the world.
Chinese players love familiarity and a global brand they can trust. MGM offers a reliable product from a strong company with rich history. A large part of MGM Macau’s success comes from the way the MGM name has been expertly managed for a Chinese market. Launched as a joint venture between Pansy Ho and The United States-based MGM, the Macau version of the Golden Lion is a classic example of East meets West and the result has been nothing short of amazingly successful. It combines the international prowess of the longestablished and trusted MGM brand with the local “know-how” of one of Macau’s most influential gaming and tourism executives.
MGM is in the absolute heart of the Macau peninsular gaming precinct, located in prime waterfront position at the very southern edge of the peninsular. The building is designed to take maximum advantage of its position facing south towards the South China Sea and across the water to Taipa.
When visiting Macau it’s hard to miss MGM. The building is one of the most striking and impressive on the Macau skyline. You could be mistaken for thinking the building’s color scheme represents gold, silver and bronze, but the three “layers” of the MGM building actually comprise three different shades of gold. The bottom level is rose gold and the middle section is white gold. MGM is proud of its association with gold and its state-ofthe- art architecture and interiors. Many visitors to Macau prefer the more intimate feel of the Macau peninsular casinos to their larger counterparts across the water in Cotai – mega-resorts are not every player’s preferred gaming setting. Proximity to the mainland China border gate and the Hong Kong ferry terminal is another edge the Macau peninsular casinos have over their Cotai-based cousins.
It is astounding to think that MGM Grand Macau only officially opened its doors on 18 December 2007. It seems to have been around a lot longer than that. MGM Grand Macau was renamed MGM Macau in 2010, following the rebranding push of MGM in the US at the same time. On 18 April 2011 an initial public offering was announced and as a result a new company, MGM China Holdings Ltd, was born. Testament to the market’s confidence in the brand, the new company raised US$1.5 billion from its IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Lobbies and Grand Praça
MGM has two distinctly different lobbies. The main lobby has more hustle and bustle and features two pieces of breathtaking artwork by renowned American artist Dale Chihuly. The striking red “Fiori Di Paradiso Ceiling” glass installation measures 17 meters long by 9 meters wide and adorns the center of the main lobby’s ceiling. The “Fiori Di Paradiso Drawing Wall” behind the main reception desk is made up of 42 different glass panels, and measures 17 meters long by 5 meters high.
The VIP lobby has marble floors, walls and bench tops and exudes luxury, wealth and fortune. Quiet and relaxed, the lobby décor is influenced by Pansy Ho herself. Ms Ho is renowned for her love and appreciation of art, and the VIP lobby boasts a ceiling of real gold leaf, all attached by hand.
After passing through either of the lobbies guests can proceed to the Grand Praça: an impressive open area of 1,088 square meters which brings the outside, inside, by the use of an all-glass ceiling suspended 25 metres above the floor. The Grand Praça showcases European-inspired architecture and various artworks. Often utilized by MGM for special events and exhibitions, the Grand Praça is a spectacular achievement of design where you can feel the sun without being blown away by the wind, or stand out in the rain without getting wet. The north end of the Grand Praça has an amazing façade modeled on Lisbon’s central train station.
MGM Macau has a wide range of accommodation options. There are 582 rooms in three tiers starting with the Grand rooms, working up to stunning suites with ocean views and then on to the villas for the serious VIP. There is also a fully equipped business center, but hopefully you won’t need to do any work while enjoying the property.
The suites and villas come in one and two bedroom versions, complete with their own lifts. The villas feature kitchenettes, bath and rain showers, the finest linen and even their own karaoke rooms! They have been finished off using rich timbers, fine leather and marble bathrooms. The Dragon has been a regular here for years and this is truly the kind of luxury accommodation he has come to expect.
Obviously one of the most important features of any casino is its gaming floor. The management of MGM understands that no matter how good their hospitality is, patrons require their gaming experience to be professional, inviting and accessible.
MGM takes very good care of their VIPs and high rollers, boasting two premium lounges for members: the Supreme Lounge and the Platinum Lounge. Essentially “casinos within a casino”, they are private gaming clubs for those who qualify. These two lounges offer opulence, a homey feel and the very best in gaming experiences for those who don’t want to be disturbed by the faster pace of the main gaming floor.
Of course in keeping with the wider Macau gaming industry the main game you will find on the floor is baccarat, but there is also a very healthy spread of blackjack tables and other gaming favorites such as sic bo, Caribbean stud poker, roulette, fortune 3 card poker, craps, 3-card baccarat and casino war.
E-gaming is also an important part of MGM’s commitment to providing the latest gaming products to their clientele. WGM’s good friends and local Macau success story, LT Game, have just provided MGM with one of their famous live dealer stadium-style baccarat installations. We’ve featured these live dealer games before in WGM, and they are hugely popular in Macau. With 50 terminals available to players, there is no reason to think the MGM installation will be anything other than a roaring success.
MGM also has one of the hottest craps games going in Macau. Craps is a game that needs atmosphere and there is none better than the game on offer at MGM. There have been a few nights where WGM’s The Eagle has thrown a few long runs and has had the crowd cheering for more.
Slot machines are proving to be a huge industry in Macau and are now the clear number two gaming choice after baccarat. MGM Macau realizes many of their customers enjoy the opportunity to turn a small investment into a huge windfall by playing slot machines, especially those with huge jackpots. MGM Macau boasts 1,240 slot machines that average around HK$358 million in jackpots and create 43 slot millionaires each month. The biggest jackpot win so far is a FaFaFa jackpot which went off on July 31 this year for a whopping HK$10.6 million payday.
Over the last four months MGM has proved to be Macau’s home of slots and right now is the number one property in Macau for slot turnover, which even impresses WGM’s electronic gaming guru, The Tiger, who is always on the hunt for a big slot jackpot.
Player cards are becoming more popular in Macau. It makes sense to join players clubs, as they allow the casino to reward you for your playing time.
The Golden Lion Club has four levels of membership: Golden, Elite, Platinum and Supreme. Make sure you take the time to register and you will find yourself rewarded with a wide range of benefits like discounted food and beverage, and free accommodation and travel, to name just a few.
Following Las Vegas’ lead, Macau has come to understand the importance of attracting the corporate event market. MGM has plenty of space and caters for events ranging from a boardroom meeting for 12 to a cocktail function for 800.
An ideal venue for business meetings, social events, weddings or parties, MGM has its own catering and event planning team to provide expert information and help to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.
There are three major spaces that can be used:
- The Grand Ballroom: measuring 24 by 33 meters, it can be split into thirds to cater for events of various sizes.
- The Salons: consisting of three smaller rooms that can be arranged into various configurations for up to 100 people.
- The Vista: an outdoor venue by the pool deck that is excellent for parties during good weather.
Dining and bars
There are a wide variety of dining and bar options at MGM ranging from a quick bowl of noodles to formal Cantonese cuisine.
- Aux Beau Arts: contemporary yet authentic Parisian brasserie.
- Imperial Court: serves the finest Cantonese cuisine, a particular favorite with Macau locals and home of six private dining rooms.
- Rossio: famous for its buffet and open kitchen.
- Square 8: casual Hong Kong style café.
- MGM Patisserie: perfect for a simple and light lunch or to meet for afternoon tea, the patisserie has a fantastic selection of pastries, cakes, breads and chocolates.
- ABA Bar: stylish and elegant bar that also houses the specialist all-white-décored “Russian Room”, a perfect place to enjoy your vodka.
- ABA private dining room: a single rectangular table for 12 sits in a spectacular setting in the wine cellar, where you can dine surrounded by wine on all sides and on two floors. The ladies in their elegant cocktail dresses may need to stay close to their gentleman partners, as the wine cellar is kept suitably chilled!
- Lion’s Bar: benefitting from a recent face-lift, this is Macau’s home of live music. You can sit at the bar, burn it up on the dance floor or secure yourself a private booth to party it up with bottle service and some friends. Look for The Stallion and the rest of the WGM gang who like to sneak in for a few bottles now and then, especially after a function or party.
As well as being home to a long list of renowned Asian chefs, MGM has searched the globe to offer its patrons the very best in Western food. Austrian Pastry Chef Günther Wolfsgruber is considered one of Asia’s masters, and has worked in more than 10 countries. American Chef Chad Ryan Ogden and Lebanese born Chef Elie Khalife have also added their unique flair to the numerous culinary delights on offer.
Be on the look out for The Panda, who is often seen rubbing his tummy at many of the dining options on offer. He apparently likes to brunch at Aux Beau Arts on a Sunday after a big night out on the town.
If a 200,000 square foot complex featuring the finest luxury brands is your idea of heaven then you will feel right at home at One Central, which is seamlessly connected to MGM Macau.
MGM also features the Chihuly Gallery Macau, which is the first signature gallery featuring Dale Chihuly’s work in Asia. If you are a lover of drawings, glass art and prints you will enjoy the fine collection from this world-renowned artist. WGM’s The Butterfly has burnt through more than a few credit cards filling up her shopping bags at MGM.
Six Senses Spa
Located on the third floor, Six Senses Spa is one of Macau’s most respected retreats. This highly acclaimed spa has achieved Four Star awards from Forbes Travel Guide. Six Senses offers healing therapies and pampering packages catering to all patrons looking to relax and rejuvenate. There is a range of facilities and offerings so wide that we can’t do it justice in the space this article provides. Six Senses Spa is really worthy of an article all on its own, so keep an eye out for that in a future issue of WGM.
The Golden Lion is a jewel in the crown of the Macau gaming industry. MGM Macau has such a loyal following it can be hard to get a room at the property, especially on weekends. Arrange your trip well in advance and enjoy all that MGM has to offer. World Gaming magazine has the inside mail on what’s coming up at MGM in the near future so keep an eye on our upcoming issues and of course our website wgm8.com. You might just find something special for WGM readers!