Lucky old Macau

Written by Oscar Guijarro

One of Macau’s most historic properties, Casino Lisboa, is home to the new Macau Gaming History Gallery, providing a fascinating glimpse at the city’s proud gaming heritage.


There was a time, not so long ago, when casino dealers needed to shake the dice manually, workers’ shifts were written on paper boards hanging on the wall and VIP gaming rooms were located directly above the mass gaming floor to reflect their “higher standing”.

Those heady days made Macau legendary and although electronic gaming has transformed the business, a recently opened gallery at Hotel Lisboa provides a glimpse into what Macau’s casinos looked like in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

The Macau Gaming History Gallery was officially opened on 6 June 2018 with the Co-Chairman and Executive Director of SJM Holdings – the company that owns and operates Macau’s Grand Lisboa and Casino Lisboa – Angela Leong outlining the close relationship between Macau and casino gaming as well as how the industry is gradually moving from pure gambling towards a complete entertainment experience.

She also pointed to an old sign that once adorned the entryway to Casino Lisboa, which read, “No one can win all the time. We advise you to play merely for pleasure and to risk only what you can spare.”

Such words, written in English, are carved alongside similar messages in Chinese and Portuguese in the marble plaque currently being exhibited at the gallery.

Dr Ambrose So, SJM’s Vice-Chairman, CEO and Executive Director, explained that those words in fact belong to Stanley Ho, the founding father of Macau’s gaming industry, adding that they demonstrate the company’s long-time promotion of responsible gaming.

The Macau Gaming History Gallery also showcases old gaming tables and artifacts while providing visitors the chance to experience what it is like to be a dealer.

The exhibition utilizes four old tables formerly used in SJM’s casinos for playing baccarat, blackjack, fantan and sic bo with gallery staff explaining the mechanics dealers had to follow when dealing each game.

Visitors can also practice ordering fantan beads with a stick or push the lever of the semi-manual chest to shake the dice in sic bo. The fantan table includes a wicker basket used by VIP gamblers to place bets from their “exclusive zone” located on the upper floor of Macau’s old casinos. If you want to see this “basket game” in real action, Jai Alai – located near the Macau Ferry Terminal – still has two tables utilizing the system to this day.

The center of the exhibition hall is occupied by a magnificent old roulette table. While lacking the slick design of the current models, the gallery’s wheel still delivers a classic, steady and harmonious spin. Alongside roulette, visitors can view an old tombola and lotto drums, all of them moved manually of course, and even a device once used to signal Macau’s typhoon warnings! Some decades ago, casinos were allowed to close their doors only once an approaching typhoon’s strength reached level 10, so it was essential for gamblers to know the evolution of the storm and when their betting might be interrupted or resumed.

Chips, cards, tiles and two classic slot machines are part of the exhibits too, complemented by videos, pictures and explanations in Chinese of local gaming landmarks.

The Gallery is located at Zone F, 3rd Floor, Lisboa Crystal Palace in Hotel Lisboa and is open from 12:00 to 18:00 every day. Entry is free.