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Macau - A city with character


Not quite a country, Macau is a Special Administrative Region located within China. The other region of similar type is Hong Kong. Both locations are quite close to each other, with Macau sitting across from Hong Kong on the Pearl River Delta. Today, the territory is heavily dependent on tourism and gambling, and is considered one of the best places to live in Asia. Ranking 23rd in the world on the Human Development Index, it also has the second-highest life expectancy in the entire world.


The history of the region dates back to 221-206 BC, during the Qin Dynasty when the region was under the jurisdiction of Panyu County. The area had little to no habitation for many centuries until the Southern Song Dynasty, when the Mongol invasions in the north pushed inhabitants into the south. That being said, it was not until the 16th century that the region had any major settlement. It was in that century when the Portuguese arrived, obtaining the rights to anchor ships in the habour of Macau to carry out trading activities. They were not allowed on shore until 1552 when they were given special permission to have storage sheds on the shore. In 1557, they had a permanent settlement in Macau, paying 41.6 pounds of silver per year as rent. They continued to do this until 1863.

During the 17th century, 5,000 slaves, 2,000 Portuguese and 20,000 Chinese people were living in Macau. Its importance as a port continued to grow and the Dutch made numerous attempts to conquer it throughout that century.

By the 19th century, the Sino-Portuguese Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed, which resulted in the ceding of the area by China to Portugal. In 1928, when the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, a new agreement was signed. Following the Second World War (in which the area was primarily neutral and a safe haven for many Chinese), the People's Republic of China government declared the treaty was invalid. That being said, it was not until 1976 that Macau became a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration. Officially, on Dec. 20, 1999, the Chinese government assumed formal sovereignty over Macau. The region continued to prosper economically, thanks in no small part to the gambling and casinos present there.


The economy of Macau is mostly based off of tourism, and most people come there for gambling. In fact, gambling, tourism and hospitality make up 50 per cent of the GDP of Macau, and 70 per cent of the revenue for the government. In a report by the World Tourism Organization, Macau ranked 21st in the number of tourists and 24th in tourism receipts. In 2000, 9.1 million people visited the region for tourism and gambling. This number increased to 18.7 million in 2005 and 22 million in 2006. Roughly 50 per cent of the tourists are coming from China, while 30 per cent come from Hong Kong.

Gambling has actually been a part of the region since the 1960s when the first large casino was built (although gambling existed since the 1850s). At the time, the gambling industry operated under a government monopoly. That ended in 2002 and Las Vegas casino owners began to enter the market. Several gambling resorts quickly opened, and in 2007 the Venetian Macau, the second largest building in the world at the time in terms of floor space (sixth now), opened its doors.

Currently, there are 17 casinos that operate under the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau. In 2004, the Sands Macao opened and was operated by the Las Vegas Sans Corporation. With 229,000 square feet for the casino and a further 289-suite hotel, it ushered in a new era as a casino owned by foreigners.

As a result of foreign owners coming in, the gambling industry has exploded and today, Macau is the largest and most popular casino market on the entire planet, even more than Las Vegas.

Today, there are a total of 33 casinos operating. A total of 23 of these casinos are located on the Macau Peninsula and 10 are on Taipa Island. The three main casino operators in Macau are SJM Holdings, Galaxy Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands, earning $9.7 billion, $4.8 billion and $4.2 billion each.

Apart from casinos, horse racing and greyhound racing is very popular.

For many in Asia, going gambling is all about Macau, no different than in the United States where Las Vegas fills that role. With a long and unique history, Macau continues to be one of the most important regions in Asia thanks in no small part to gambling.

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