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'Macwow' in the South China Sea: Gambling on Macau

'Macwow' in the South China Sea: Gambling on Macau

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Macau glitters as a great duality, fusing a gateway to Chinese culture with an accent of Portuguese spice. The tiny enclave on the Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea is twinned with Hong Kong 45 miles away and features the world’s most successful legal gambling dens by revenue. Along with the exuberance of that extravaganza, there is an underlying heart of an entertainment, culinary, and cultural tourist destination that is much more than just a "Vegas of the East."

Macau, first settled by the Portuguese in 1557, was the original portal to China for European expansionists. After 400 years as an entryway, entrepôt and colony, the Portuguese were the last Westerners to leave in 1999, transferring Macau back to China, under a "one country, two systems" government. Macau has more than half a million people, with about 94 percent of them being "Chinese." But over time a distinctly "Macanese" culture has emerged. These Macanese traditions, along with a small Portuguese community, have imbued Macau with a unique fragrant piquancy to its Asian heart. This can be seen not only in the street names, churches, and architecture but also in the wide variety of homegrown Macanese, Portuguese, and a wide range of international cuisines that are available.

As Portuguese explorers sailed the world to Brazil, Macau, and elsewhere, they merged their own cultural heritage with local elements. For example, feijoada, a signature stew of Portugal, typically, a mélange of meats like beef or pork with a regional mixture of local beans and spices has appeared in Macau. Symbolically, in Macau the meat in the feijoada represents the Macanese culture's gambling and the beans and spices represent colonial culture.

Gambling in Macau dates back to the 16th century and was legitimized by the colonial government in 1847. In 2006, Macau passed Las Vegas in revenue, and today is the world’s largest gaming center with revenues of $38 billion in 2012, more than five times that of Las Vegas.

In Macau for a weekend, or at least a couple of days? Here’s what you should check out:

Friday Night
Most non-Chinese visitors come by ferry from Hong Kong, and among the ships is a high-speed jet boat that docks at the Hong Kong International Airport for a 45-minute connection to the Macau Peninsula Ferry Terminal.

The Non-Gamblers Guide to Macau

Whilst Macau has no shortage of glitzy casinos, non-gamblers shouldn’t be deterred look beyond the neon-lit strip and you’ll discover a city that’s surprisingly diverse.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘Las Vegas of the East’ tagline, there’s more to Macau than its casinos. With unique food offerings, sights to see, and thrilling activities, it’s little wonder the city is developing into one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia. Here’s a little taste of what’s on offer for those looking to bypass the casinos.

The $20 billion 'umbilical cord': China unveils the world's longest sea-crossing bridge

As we drive down the eerily deserted Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the murky waters of the Pearl River Delta stretch as far as the eye can see. There is no land in sight.

Spanning 34 miles (55 kilometers), this is the longest sea-crossing bridge ever built. Guo Xinglin, assistant director and senior engineer at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority, meets us half way along. As we are buffeted by a strong wind, the tough conditions his construction crew experienced, as they perched on precarious platforms, working miles from land and high over the water, are evident.

Guo is visibly proud of his country's monumental achievement.

Due to open to the public this summer, this long snake of bitumen will connect a relatively small city on the Chinese mainland with the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

But since the bridge was first suggested in 2003, it has stirred controversy. This massive span of concrete and steel is not just proof of China's ability to build record-setting megastructures -- it's also a potent symbol of the country's growing geopolitical ambitions.

As tensions simmer between the mainland and Hong Kong and Taiwan, and China continues to claim territory in the South China Sea, the bridge can be seen as a physical manifestation of the Chinese leadership's determination to exert its regional influence. Critics have also questioned the environmental and human toll and the immense financial cost of the project.

China's Greater Bay Area

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is a central plank in China's master plan to develop its own Greater Bay Area -- a region it hopes will develop to rival the bay areas of San Francisco, New York and Tokyo in terms of technological innovation and economic success. The official narrative is that greater regional integration will drive economic growth.

Home to 68 million people, the Greater Bay Area covers 21,800 square miles (56,500 square kilometers) in central southern China, and encompasses 11 cities -- Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities across Guangdong province.

Marcos Chan, head of research for commercial real estate consultancy CBRE Hong Kong, Southern China and Taiwan, says the region is already very vibrant and economically productive. "It takes up less than 1% of the land area of China and is home to less than 5% of the population but produces 12% of China's GDP." When compared to countries around the world, he says "the Greater Bay Area already has the 11th largest economy."

The idea of a Greater Bay Area was first raised in 2009, but development has been hampered because "there are lots of barriers between the cities," Chan says. The region incorporates three borders (Hong Kong/China Macau/China Hong Kong/Macau), three different legal systems and three different currencies. Additionally, residents carry three different passports and identity cards, and speak two different languages (Cantonese and Mandarin).

"To compete with other bay areas in the world, the Chinese government has to remove or reduce these barriers . and promote integration among the cities," says Chan.

That's where the bridge comes in. It will slash journey times between the three cities from three hours to 30 minutes, putting them all within an hour's commute of each other.

"At present, the economic distribution is very uneven between the Pearl River Delta's east and west coasts," says Chan adding that, "the cities on the eastern side such as Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Dongguan are more economically developed than cities on the western side including Zhuhai, Jiangmen and Zhongshan."

He says the bridge will make it easier for goods produced by factories on the west side to be exported from air and sea ports on the east side -- including Hong Kong's international airport, the busiest cargo airport in the world.

The bridge is also intended to boost tourism. "At present, visitors to Hong Kong from mainland China tend to fly in for one or two days, mostly for shopping, and seldom travel to other areas in the Pearl River Delta," says Chan. Once the bridge is open, tourists -- both from China and other countries -- will be able to travel from Hong Kong's airport to Macau and the mainland in about 45 minutes.

The big draw in Macau -- a former Portuguese colony -- is its casinos. "It's the largest gambling city in the world, and the only city where gaming is legal in the whole Greater China region," says Chan. Zhuhai, sometimes referred to as China's Florida on account of its balmy climate and lush vegetation, is a family-friendly destination. Holiday resorts, theme parks and golf courses are currently being developed on the offshore island of Hengqin.

The bridge is not the only cross-border development underway. The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which will connect Hong Kong to China's high speed rail network, and the Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point, a border crossing between Hong Kong and mainland China, are both due to open later this year.

Chan believes the region could become "possibly the most attractive tourism hub in China." But not everyone sees the benefits.

A white elephant?

"The bridge is a waste of money," says Claudia Mo, an independent lawmaker who supports greater democracy in Hong Kong. "When it comes to linking the mainland to Hong Kong, we have air, sea and land linkages already. Why do we need this extra project?"

Like other critics, Mo believes that building the bridge was a political act. In the wake of Occupy Hong Kong -- the 2014 pro-democracy protests which rocked the territory -- Beijing has tightened its grip on the city. Opponents see the bridge as a means by which to force assimilation and exert control.

"You can't see the existing transport connections -- in a literal way. But this bridge is very visible . you can see it from the plane when you fly in to Hong Kong, and it's breathtaking," says Mo. "It links Hong Kong to China almost like an umbilical cord. You see it, and you know you're linked up to the motherland."

Mo says she is unsure that Hong Kong's roads can cope with the extra vehicular traffic the bridge will bring, and she believes the territory doesn't need any more tourists. "Hong Kong is bursting. We already get more tourists than the whole of the UK." In 2016, Hong Kong welcomed 56.7 million tourist arrivals, whereas the UK received 37.6 million overseas visitors.

Mo also believes that Hong Kong has spent too much money on the bridge. The three regional governments that collaborated on the project took financial responsibility for sections inside their own territories and shared the cost of the 14 mile (23 kilometer) long main bridge that runs between them.

Information supplied by the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority has revealed that the total cost of the main bridge was $7.56 billion, $4.32 billion of which was funded with bank loans. Of the remaining $3.24 billion, Hong Kong put up $1.38 billion -- a little less than Zhuhai ($1.43 billion), which received financial support from China's central government, and considerably more than Macau (.43 billion) which, with a population of 610,000, is the smallest of the three cities.

A spokesman at Hong Kong's Transport and Housing Bureau told CNN that Hong Kong spent an additional $4.57 billion on its Boundary Crossing Facilities, and $3.19 billion on a link road from the main bridge to the boundary crossing. Hong Kong's total bill exceeds $9 billion.

"Hong Kong has had to fund a lot of the bridge," says Mo, "but we won't see many benefits here."

How to build a megabridge

While the true need for the bridge is disputed, it is undeniably an extraordinary feat of engineering.

Built to withstand a magnitude eight earthquake, a super typhoon, and strikes by super-sized cargo vessels, it incorporates 400,000 tons of steel -- 4.5 times the amount in San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

Guo says the most technically difficult aspect was the construction of a four mile (6.7 kilometer) long submerged tunnel.

The tunnel is a crucial component because the Pearl River Delta is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world. According to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority over 4,000 vessels -- everything from passenger ferries to container ships -- cruise its waters every day.

Guo explains that the tunnel is made of 33 "elements" -- huge hollow blocks measuring 590 feet (180 meters) long, 125 feet (38 meters) wide and 37 feet (11.4 meters) high. Each element weighs 80,000 tons -- about the same as an aircraft carrier. The elements were precast on Guishan Island, near Zhuhai, and transported to the construction site by floating pontoons and tugboats. "We excavated a foundation trench in the sea bed, laid a rock bed, then immersed the elements," he says.

The tunnel runs between two artificial islands, each measuring one million square feet (100,000 square meters) and situated in relatively shallow waters. Building islands from scratch didn't prove easy, either, says Xinglin. A structural frame was created using 120 giant, hollow, steel cylinders, each one 180 feet (55 meters) high (equivalent to an 18-story building) and weighing 550 tons -- about the same as an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger jet.

"The steel structures were manufactured in a workshop in Shanghai and then transported to the site by ship," Guo tells CNN. The team used hydraulic hammers to drive the cylinders into the seabed, then filled the cylinders and the enclosed area with sand.

Troubled waters

It's no surprise that Guo admits to having suffered sleepless nights.

The bridge has been plagued by criticism since its beginning. Environmental groups including WWF and the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, for example, have argued that its construction has further endangered Hong Kong's beleaguered population of Chinese white dolphins.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong's Highways Department said: "The locations and alignments of the . infrastructure are carefully determined to avoid the Chinese white dolphin's major active areas. Besides, the construction methods have also been carefully selected so as to minimize the impacts to the marine environment."

The project's worker safety record has also been criticized. In a statement, the Highways Department told CNN that seven workers had died, and 275 had been injured, while working on Hong Kong's link road and boundary crossing facility. "The relevant requirements on occupational safety are included in the contract provisions of the public works contracts . Highways Department has also required contractors to strictly implement the safety measures."

With every setback the official opening date -- originally planned for late 2016 -- has been further delayed, which led some to doubt whether the bridge would ever come to fruition.

But with the main construction of the bridge now complete, officials are putting the finishing touches to the project -- finalizing plans for customs arrangements and operations at checkpoint facilities, determining responsibility for emergency rescue operations, and negotiating toll prices.

The speed limit has been set at 62 miles (100 kilometers) an hour, and it has been decided that cars will drive on the right along the Chinese sections of the bridge, and switch to the left in Hong Kong and Macau, to match the driving styles in each city.

In a few months' time, this empty ocean highway will be filled with cars, buses, trucks and lorries, zipping between China, Hong Kong and Macau. It remains to be seen if the boost to connectivity will elevate China's Greater Bay Area to new heights, and how much further it will bring Hong Kong and Macau into China's powerful embrace.

Live Updates

Argentina's trade with China has doubled since 2000. Chile is negotiating a free trade pact with China.

As China becomes more and more dependent on imported oil, it is cultivating Angola, one of West Africa's largest oil producers. With business and official exchanges intensifying, China agreed recently to extend $2 billion in credits to Angola, largely to rebuild the nation's east-west railroad, a colonial-era line destroyed by 40 years of civil war.

"The resource-rich Portuguese-speaking countries and world's fastest-growing market, China, seem to be a perfect match," Mr. An, the Chinese vice commerce minister, said at the trade talks here last year, according to Xinhua. For these new markets, Macao is preparing a bank of bilingual translators.

Typical of the new direction, when the Macao International Trade and Investment Fair opens here Oct. 21, there is to be a large section called the Chinese-Portuguese-Speaking Countries Fair.

After meeting here in early October, executives of Portugal Telecom, Portugal's largest company, are drawing up plans to expand from here into China.

Under a new Macao-China free trade deal, duty-free access is to start Jan. 1, 2006, for about 93 percent of goods exported from here to China, and China's market is to be opened for 18 service sectors here, including telecommunications.

For Ricardo Pinto, editor of Ponto Final, one of the Portuguese dailies, the connection also allows this city "some economic diversification away from gambling."

Macao has billed itself in the past as the Monte Carlo of the Orient. Today, gambling is booming, swelling the ranks of the five million people expected to use Macao's international airport this year.

Its 15th casino, the Casa Real, opened recently and gambling revenue in Macao is up about 50 percent over last year, according to The Macao Post Daily, the city's first English-language newspaper, which opened in August. With billions of dollars planned in new casino investments, Macao expects to double its number of annual visitors by 2010, to 30 million, roughly the same as Las Vegas.

With Macao's per capita income hitting $17,000, near the level of Portugal, there is little economic incentive for the 110,000 Portuguese passport holders here to emigrate to Portugal. Riding the casino boom, the Macao government expects to collect $2 billion in gambling taxes this year, 60 percent more than last year.

Far from shrinking from Macao's colonial past, city leaders have restored and illuminated such colonial landmarks as churches, forts, hospitals, theaters, museums, an observatory and the governor's palace. Rare for a modern Asian city, the historic preservation has been so extensive that Macao is expected to win recognition next year from Unesco as a world heritage site.

"They have gone from heritage preservation to heritage cultivation," said Harald Bruning, director of The Macao Post Daily.

The pastels, burnt red tile roofs, Portuguese cod dishes and swarms of motor scooters give an ample taste of the Mediterranean. All company names and road signs are required to be written in Portuguese and Chinese, which can leave English-speaking visitors bewildered.

But as Mr. Almeida, who sees a new generation of Portuguese speakers walking into his bookstore, said, "Portuguese has gone from a colonial hangover to a business opportunity."

'Macwow' in the South China Sea: Gambling on Macau - Recipes

A sleepy city on the South China Sea ruled by the Portuguese until 1999, Macau has become a glitzy playground for China&rsquos ultra wealthy. But in pockets between the casino resorts fueled by mainland money, traces of its culinary history remain.

It appeared at first that I had arrived in Macau by time machine. The hotel&rsquos name, Morpheus, seemed picked to evoke either Greek mythology or The Matrix, but the exterior of the $1.1 billion building makes it clear the proprietors had chosen science fiction. Designed by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, it looks as though a black block of liquid metal had three holes melted through it before it was wrapped in a fishnet exoskeleton. It&rsquos even more difficult to describe the avant-garde dream space once you&rsquove stepped inside the lobby. Imagine a glass church built from fractals expanding skyward in chaotic harmony. It&rsquos a bit like the city itself: ostentatious and awe-inspiring, a place that can bankroll wild ambition.

A tiny peninsula across the Pearl River Estuary from Hong Kong, Macau was a Portuguese colony for nearly five centuries. Twenty years ago, the city reverted to Chinese rule, and construction cranes quickly crowded its skyline. Gambling&mdash thanks in part to American corporations such as Wynn Resorts and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation&mdashboomed so unfathomably fast, it now makes Las Vegas seem like the nickel slots. The only territory under the Chinese flag with legalized gambling, Macau now brings in seven times more gaming revenue than Vegas. And so, new casino resorts keep shoehorning in Morpheus is barely a year old, and it&rsquos not even Macau&rsquos newest hotel.

With only 12 square miles of land, virtually all of it developed, there&rsquos no room for local farms for livestock or produce. Like the trading post it was during its 442 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Macau today is a crossroads where cooking traditions from all corners of the globe converge. Like much of traditional Macanese cooking&mdasha hybrid of Portuguese and Chinese, with sprinklings of Indian, Malay, and East African&mdashMacau is a stew of influences, a place that looks like Europe and sounds like China. But everything here is flown in internationally or trucked from mainland China, and any dish from any cuisine could magically appear before you&mdashprovided you have the means.

These days, the greatest demand is for high-roller Chinese food. On the second floor of Morpheus, the Cantonese restaurant Jade Dragon is a kaleidoscope of gold, silver, and crystal, all undulating walls and 12-foot-wide chandeliers. Thumbing through the menu, the existence of a $1,850 fish maw made me shudder at the items marked &ldquomarket price.&rdquo But in Macau, a restaurant like Jade Dragon is not an exception but increasingly the rule. The restaurant was awarded its third Michelin star in December 2018, which automatically warrants a reservation among a certain set of wealthy Chinese visitors. Macau, a city with a population equal to Louisville, Kentucky, has eight restaurants with two or more Michelin stars&mdashmore than Chicago or Los Angeles. Cooks who swing for the fences have a receptive audience here.

Kelvin Au Yeung, the 39-year-old chef at Jade Dragon, took me back to his spotless glass-wrapped kitchen. He showed off a brick oven more suited to a Naples pizzeria, where a row of glistening barbecue pork char siu hung, glowâ&euro&lsaquoing in the flames of lychee wood. While other Cantonese siu mei chefs might use pork loin, Au Yeung uses the marbled pork collars from acorn-fed Spanish Iberico pigs. What emerged from the lychee wood embers, my very first bite after arriving in Macau, was a sweet, crusty, luscious piece of pork char siu good enough to make my eyeballs roll toward the back of my skull and ruin all other Cantonese barbecue for me forever.

Around the corner from the cartier and prada billboards, the water-and-light shows, and faux Venetian canals is a sweltering Macau with a soundtrack of Cantonese, honking horns, and air-conditioner hums.

At the entrance of one alley was an orange sign advertising Riquexo, a restaurant that serves homestyle Macanese cooking from the ground floor of an apartment complex. It is not Portuguese or Chinese cooking, or even a straightforward fusion, but a singular cuisine formed over five centuries that uses Portuguese ingredients (olive oil, chouriço) alongside Cantonese (soy sauce, ginger, lap cheung sausage), and marries the two with flavors that have their roots in Portugal&rsquos historical link to the spice trade.

With the notable exception of Fat Rice, the James Beard Award&ndashwinning Chicago restaurant, Macanese cooking is rarely found in restaurants, even in Macau&mdashit is a culinary tradition of the home cook, kept alive by the precious few ethnic Macanese living here today. One of the last places to find it is Riquexo. Inside, an elderly woman named Dona Aida de Jesus sat by the cashier, sipping the murky broth of a lotus-root soup. At 103 years old, she&rsquos at the restaurant most days as both an ambassador and for quality control.

All around de Jesus were black-and-white photographs from the Macau of yore. She spoke in a whisper, in short declarative sentences. I told her I came halfway across the world to meet her. She flashed a wide smile and asked a server to bring me a bowl of what she was eating.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do hotels with Spa in Macau cost on the weekend?

Based on hotel prices on, the average cost per night on the weekend for hotels with Spa in Macau is USD 295. Hotel rates change often this price is for reference only.

When booking hotels with Spa in Macau, what are the most popular areas to stay in?

When visiting Macau, many travelers choose to stay at hotels with Spa in the following areas: Macau PeninsulaTaipa .

How much do hotels with Spa in Macau cost?

Based on hotel prices on, the average cost per night for hotels with Spa in Macau is USD 225. Hotel rates change often this price is for reference only.

What are the most popular hotels with Spa in Macau?

Whether you're traveling for business or going on vacation, there are many popular hotels with Spa to choose from in Macau. The Macau Roosevelt is a popular hotel with Spa to stay at.

China’s Studio City, a Hollywood-themed casino-resort, opens in Macau

Here’s what was happening in Studio City on Tuesday night: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Brett Ratner were walking the red carpet to promote their new film.

A stone’s throw away, workers prepared to open the doors to a new Batman 4-D flight ride and a Warner Bros. indoor play area for kids. Next door, a Hollywood magician debuted a $40-million house of illusions, shoppers strolled under the marquees of the Egyptian Theatre and the American Cinematheque, and Mariah Carey belted her lungs out in a 5,000-seat arena.

All of this activity was contained in a massive new Art Deco-style complex master-planned by a guy in North Hollywood.

But this was not L.A.'s Studio City — this was China’s Studio City, a new $3.2-billion Hollywood-themed casino-resort in the gambling hub of Macau.

It’s the splashiest development to open in the Las Vegas of the East in years, and Studio City’s operators are betting big that Tinseltown can help them bounce back from a precipitous drop in gambling revenue affecting the entire territory.

Gross gambling revenue in Macau skyrocketed from $5 billion in 2004 to $45 billion in 2013 as the former Portuguese territory opened up its gambling monopoly and allowed operators such as Wynn and Sands to develop properties alongside new local players.

But a corruption crackdown by mainland Chinese authorities, a slowdown in the mainland Chinese economy, caps on the number of gambling tables and other factors slammed the brakes on Macau’s go-go growth starting in mid-2014, and the share prices of casino operators have been hammered.

Analysts at brokerage CLSA expect wagers in Macau to fall to $30 billion this year, warning in a recent report that “the glory days are over.” But the firm expects gross gambling revenue to start growing again by the second quarter of next year. Macau’s gross gambling revenue remains about five times greater than that in Las Vegas.

Studio City is seen as the first test of whether a government-backed push to add more non-gambling elements into Macau’s casino resorts can draw more families and “mass market” gamblers, replacing the high-rolling VIPs who have evaporated in the last year.

In Macau, up to 90% of casino-resort revenue has been coming from gambling in Las Vegas, non-gambling activities account for about 60% of revenue.

“Studio City is the first of a new generation of properties,” said Marcus Liu, a research analyst at CLSA. “They will have more non-gaming in that property than we’ve ever seen before. Macau has been pressuring operators to build all these non-gaming activities they’re saying, ‘If you don’t invest in non-gaming, we’re not going to give you the tables.’”

Macau has sought to cap the growth of gambling tables at 3% a year, and competition for the allocations has been stiff. Studio City was awarded 200 tables for its opening, and an additional 50 will come online in early 2016. Still, that’s at least 150 fewer than majority owner Melco Crown Entertainment had sought. Melco is a joint venture run by two casino moguls, Macau’s Lawrence Ho and Australia’s James Packer.

In a sign of the kind of customers Melco expects to draw, none of the tables at Studio City will be for VIP wagers.

Profit margins on VIP players are quite thin, about 10%, while lower-stakes or mass-market players typically generate margins of 30% to 40%. But casino operators will need to lure many more mass-market players to make up for the high-rollers.

That’s where Hollywood comes in. Warner Bros. is a key partner: Melco signed a deal with the studio for a Batman simulation ride, the first of its kind anywhere, as well as a Fun Zone geared to younger kids.

Batman Dark Flight is a 15-minute virtual flight through Gotham City, similar to Soarin’ Over California at Disney’s California Adventure. Guests ride in the Batplane but are menaced by the Joker, who has stolen one of the prototypes of Wayne Industries’ new plane. The admission fee is about $19.

The Fun Zone is a 40,000-square-foot indoor play area with rides for kids under 12 and with characters such as Tom and Jerry, members of the Justice League and Looney Tunes stalwarts Tweety and Sylvester. The facility, which costs $25 for two hours for one adult and one child, also has a playground and space for birthday parties. A small Batman cake from the in-house bakery will set parents back about $50.

With rivals Universal Studios and Disney already in progress on China theme parks, the partnership with Melco gives Warner Bros. a fresh platform to reach the Chinese market.

“We are constantly exploring opportunities. China is a big initiative,” said Karen McTier, executive vice president of Warner Bros. consumer products. Ho said he would “love to see” whether there are further opportunities to expand cooperation with Warner Bros.

Such alliances are opening up new fronts of business for Los Angeles companies such as Thinkwell Group, which has designed attractions for theme parks, museums and other facilities around the globe. The company has done multiple projects with Warner Bros. and was commissioned to develop the Fun Zone.

“Macau wants to build up like Vegas — there’s so much entertainment coming there now, so much,” said Kelly Ryner, president of Thinkwell Asia, the company’s Beijing outpost established last year. Asia, she said, represents about 50% of the firm’s business.

The Beijing office already has 22 employees, with plans to ramp up to 50 by the end of this year, Ryner said. In addition to the Warner Bros. project in Macau, the firm has been designing a Chinese theme park around the legend of the Monkey King. Thinkwell also recently completed two indoor theme-park projects in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin.

Though some clients are asking Thinkwell to help them create their own characters and themes, she said, “we still have a lot of clients that want to work with existing Western intellectual property.”

The master planning and exterior concept design for Studio City was done by the Goddard Group in North Hollywood. The twin-tower, Art Deco-themed property with 1,600 hotel rooms is intended to have an “epic motion picture feel” that calls to mind films like “Batman” or “Ben Hur,” said company founder Gary Goddard, noting that China accounts for 55% to 60% of his business.

Cinematic elements pervade the Studio City design — built into the center of the facade is a figure-eight Ferris wheel called the Golden Reel.

The resort has three distinct shopping galleries, two with L.A. flavor. One has marquees and facades echoing Hollywood Boulevard’s iconic theaters — think the Egyptian, the Chinese and the El Capitan. The other is supposed to evoke Beverly Hills. A third shopping zone is based on New York’s Times Square.

Ho said his company likes to work with a variety of architects and wants to “be different each time.”

“We don’t like to cookie-cut things. This time we knew we wanted something over the top,” Ho said. “We said, ‘Let’s work with someone who knows the movie business a little bit and has these conceptual ideas.’”

As the resort opened Tuesday, Melco rolled out the red carpet for Hollywood royalty. To promote its opening, the company commissioned a 15-minute film by Martin Scorsese called “The Audition” and showcased it during the grand opening program.

One of the locations in the movie is the Studio City casino, although the movie was filmed in New York, with some digital assistance.

The self-referential comedy stars DiCaprio and De Niro playing themselves, vying for the same role in a movie directed by Scorsese. Brad Pitt also has a role in the piece, which was produced by RatPac Entertainment — a partnership between Hollywood director-producer Ratner and Packer of Melco Crown.

Packer said he believes that the movie and casino businesses make natural allies.

“The casino business and movie business are more similar than people realize,” he said. “People come here because it makes them feel good. And people pay for that.”


20 Fun Facts About Macau

#1 Macau or Macao?

Macao was the original old Portuguese spelling but as time passed, Macao evolved into Macau in both English and Portuguese.

After the handover in 1999, both Macao and Macau were recognised as correct English spellings, however, Macau was the official Portuguese spelling.

In 2016, the Macao government changed the spelling to Macao, so, the English version of the website spells it as Macao while the Portuguese version flips over to Macau.

Macau or Macao is a unique place to visit in China. Within the Special Administrative Region of China, restaurants, hotels and businesses use either Macau or Macao.

#2 Morpheus is the world’s first free-form exoskeleton-bound skyscraper

A cool fact about Macau is it has an impressive new architectural marvel.

Morpheus hotel in the City of Dreams is an architectural masterpiece designed by the late Dame Zaha Hadid.

The futuristic 40-storey building is no ordinary Macau hotel.

The infrastructure is described as the first free-form exoskeleton-bound high-rise building in the world and is an impressive landmark in Macau.

It cost US$1.1 billion and used 28,000 tons of structural steel (four times the amount of wrought iron used to build the Eiffel Tower!).

The 35m soaring ceiling in the lobby is high enough to fit two Ferris wheels.

#3 The House of Dancing Water theatre pool is larger than 5 Olympic swimming pools

One of the facts about Macau most people don’t know is the House of Dancing water theatre turns into a pool.

Seeing the House of Dancing Water show is one of the top things to do in Macau for kids.

The show is performed in a theatre that has a pool that can hold 3.7 million gallons (approximately 17 million litres of water) of water.

That’s more than five Olympic-sized swimming pools!

#4 Macau Tower Bungy Jump is the highest in the world

Macau Tower bungee jump is an experience you’ll never forget.

One of the best places to visit in Macau for a birds’-eye view is Macau Tower.

The Macau Tower Bungy Jump holds the Guinness World Record for the Highest Commercial Bungy Jump in the world.

At 233m (764ft high), a sphere-shaped cord that is larger at the top than the bottom distributes the weight of the jumper evenly.

#5 Macau is connected to Hong Kong and China by the world’s longest sea bridge

The 55km (34 miles) Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge is 20 times the length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

It links Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China and consists of bridges, tunnels and artificial islands across the Pearl River estuary.

Construction of the controversial bridge and tunnel project cost US$20 billion and is an extraordinary feat of engineering.

The structure is expected to last 120 years and built to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake and super typhoon.

The bridge allows motorists to travel between Hong Kong and Macau in 30 minutes and makes it easier to go on a Macau day trip from Hong Kong.

#6 The Cotai Strip is trademarked

Macau fact: The Cotai Strip was named by The Sands.

The name Cotai was created by combining the names of the two islands it is connected to (Coloane and Taipa).

The Sands Corporation – which operates Parisian Macao, Venetian Macao and Sands Cotai Central – trademarked the name Cotai Strip with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

However, the term “Cotai Strip” is often loosely used to refer to all casinos in the area.

You’ll be surprised to learn that there are many free things to do in Macau on the Cotai Strip.

#7 Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal

Macau has 40 casinos as is the only place in China where gambling is legal.

The only other place in China where you can place a legal bet is at the horse races in Hong Kong.

#8 Macau has the world’s biggest casino

The Venetian Macao has the world’s largest casino floor, with 640 gaming tables and 1,760 slot machines.

#9 Macau has the world’s first figure-8 Ferris wheel

Another interesting fact about Macau is that it has the world’s highest figure 8 Ferris wheel.

Studio City’s Golden Reel is not only the world’s first figure-8 Ferris wheel, but it’s also Asia’s highest. The attraction is 130m above the ground.

It’s a themed journey from an Industrial Revolution-themed loading platform that travels around a figure-8 track.

#10 Macau has almost tripled its land area since 1912

An undeniable fact about Macau is that it’s small.

Compared to 1912, Macau has grown in land area from 11.6 square kilometres to 30.8 square kilometres.

Macau’s population is 658,900 (2018), according to the Macao government.

#11 Macau has the 9th fastest growing economy

Did you know Macau has the 9th fastest growing economy in the world? That’s a fact!

According to the International Monetary Fund (2018), Macau is the ninth fastest-growing economy in the world, with a GDP real growth rate of 7%.

Macau has no public debt and is the second richest country/territory in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$83,840.

#12 Macau’s life expectancy is the 2nd highest in the world

One of the most surprising Macau facts is the life expectancy is the second highest in the world.

You might be surprised that Macau has the second-highest life expectancy in the world of 84, according to the UN World Bank.

As a comparison, Australia’s is 83, UK’s is 81 and the USA’s is 79.

#13 The Macanese Patua is on the verge of extinction

The official languages of Macau are Chinese and Portuguese.

The traditional language of Macau’s Macanese community is a Portuguese – Asian Creole called Patua that is “critically endangered”, according to UNESCO.

It’s estimated there are around 50 Patua speakers left in the world.

Both Cantonese and Portuguese are the official languages of Macau.

#14 Macau’s currency is the Pataca

Macau’s Pataca (MOP).

Although the Macau Pataca is the official currency of Macau, Hong Kong dollars can be used in Macau.

The Macau Pataca is considered one of the world’s least convertible currencies and is very difficult to exchange outside of Macau.

#15 Macau was the last Asian country to remain a European colony

Macau was the first Asian country to be colonised and the last to remain a European colony

The Portuguese occupied Macau in the 16th century, making Macau a base for trade for 442 years until Macau was returned to China in 1999 (Hong Kong also became a Special Administrative Region of China that year).

#16 Macau is a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

An amazing Macau fact is that Macanese cuisine is a unique fusion of Portuguese and Asian cuisines.

Macau has a distinctive cuisine that is a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines with hints of other European and Asian influences.

Macanese cuisine has evolved for more than 400 years and has developed its own unique and rich gastronomic traditions with dishes such as minchi, African chicken and Macanese egg tarts.

Macanese is one of the least-known types of food in the world and most people have never eaten in an authentic Macanese restaurant.

Even in nearby Hong Kong, there are only a handful of restaurants that serve Macanese food.

#17 Macau has a UNESCO Historical Centre

One of the facts about Macau that makes it so unique is it has a legacy of Portuguese and Chinese history.

Macau’s impressive UNESCO World Heritage Historical Centre has 22 landmarks, including colonial mansions, squares, churches and cathedrals.

The beautifully preserved historical sites are a combination of Portuguese and Chinese architecture.

Check out our ultimate guide to the Historic Centre of Macau and pick one of these Macau itinerary options to help you explore.

#18 St Paul’s College was Asia’s first Western teaching institution

The facade of the Ruins of St Paul’s.

St. Paul’s College offered education in arts, philosophy and theology to Jesuit priests, making Macau a base for Christian missionaries in China, Japan and other parts of Asia.
Macau’s Science Centre

#20 Macau has a futuristic Science Centre

Macau’s Science Centre is a futuristic conical building, partially designed by Chinese American architect IM Pei.

It has a planetarium and a spiral walkway on its exterior.

Ready to plan your trip to Macau? Pick the best time to visit Macau and check out this Macau itinerary.

Venetian Macao Resort Hotel

The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel offers more than exquisite accommodation, as it’s also the largest casino in the world. Located on the north end of the atmospheric Cotai Strip, it offers guests a pick from more than 2,000 fun slot machines and 300 tables.

Guests would also be smart to step inside the City of Dreams poker room, which offers superb daily tournaments and regional competitions. You would, therefore, be wise to familiarize yourself with the game’s rules before a visit. One poker game you won’t want to miss is, of course, Texas Hold’em, which offers stakes as low as HK$25/50, so it’s an ideal option for rookies.

Except for the variety of games, you’ll be surely blown away by the stunning interior, as the hotel and casino feature beautiful Venetian-inspired décor, as well as four outdoor swimming pools, an extensive children’s playground, and two concert venues.

If this wasn’t enough, it features a jaw-dropping mall that is intersected with three canals with singing gondoliers. The hotels’ rooms will also allow you to immerse yourself in utter luxury, as they feature gold-accented interiors and marble bathrooms. When you’re not indulging in comfort, you can also enjoy delicious dishes at the onsite Golden Peacock, which is a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant.

Souvenirs and Shopping

Macanese Snacks: Similar to traditional Cantonese, Macanese people also like snacks very much. Almond Cake is one of the most famous snacks in Macau and you can also taste the other snacks and take some back home, such as Meat Jerky, Nougat, Preserved Fruit, and Egg Rolls. You can find many bakeries and snack shops at Rua de S. Paulo St., Cunha St., and Largo do Senado in downtown Macau.

Wine: Portuguese wine is very famous in the world. You can easily find authentic Douro and Alentejo wine at most of the supermarkets, small shops and duty-free shops in Macau. If you are interested in the knowledge of wine, you may go for a visit to the Macau Wine Museum. There are over 1000 kinds of wines in the museum, and over 50 kinds of wine that can be tasted.

Antiques & Handicrafts: There are some antique shops in the alleys near the Ruins of St. Paul's. You can find some exquisite wooden carvings, bronze wares, old coins, porcelain wares, and even archaize furniture. They can ship the over-sized furniture to other countries for you with a reasonable price.