I must confess, I’m not a big gambler. From time to time, I enjoy a good poker night but focus more on having fun than winning.
While a student, I was also into sports betting, “investing” a lot of my pocket-money into this wonderful habit. After realizing there was no return on my investment, and this was affecting most of my activities (including the consistency and frequency of my meals), I quit this sport.
However, I always wanted to gamble in a large casino. Not necessarily for winning, although it wouldn’t hurt, but for the experience itself.
There are a few places, famous for gambling: Las Vegas, Macau, Monte Carlo, Singapore and Atlantic City.
Although each one of these has its own particular charm, Macau and Las Vegas remain the largest and most accessible for regular tourists. I would have wanted to gamble in Monte Carlo too, but they focus on an upscale clientele, making gambling a pretty expensive activity.
I was in LA for a few weeks with some work colleagues. Since my birthday happened to be during one of the weekends spent there, we decided to go to Las Vegas. The plan was to leave early in the morning on Saturday, spend the night in Vegas, and then return back to LA on Sunday.
So we left Saturday morning to Vegas. Driving through the desert was an incredible experience itself, especially since it was the first time I saw the desert. Also, before arriving in Las Vegas, we made a detour and continued our trip to Hoover Dam.
Hoover Dam is a magnificent place that I strongly recommend you to visit. Although the water level has dropped considerably in the last years, the view is amazing.
The Las Vegas Strip
After relaxing for a couple of hours in the hotel, it was time to see the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Las Vegas at night is both an amazing and crazy city. The streets are flooded with hordes of people swarming in all directions. Among these, you can find everybody, from simple tourists or gamblers to party people and drunks.
The casinos, with their imposing thematic buildings and the outdoor shows, like Bellagio‘s dancing fountain or Mirage‘s Volcano, create a dynamic and spectacular atmosphere.
Gambling at the Casinos
I didn’t want to spend big money at the casinos, so I focused only on the slot machines. These are programmed for ripping you off and don’t really require any knowledge from the player. You’re basically at the mercy of a computer program, designed to randomly give back some of the money it robs from other players.
That being said, I just wanted to have some fun, with no plans of seeing my money back. However, there was something that annoyed me…
Being ripped off by the slot machine
The problem was not being ripped off by the slot machines, but the way it happened. Starting with only one dollar at a roulette slot machine, I’ve shortly managed to reach to 39 dollars. Not bad, I would say, for one dollar.
The roulette had 36 numbers (1 to 36, black and red), a zero (“0”) and a double zero (“00”). After reaching 39 dollars, it gave me a consecutive set of 5 or 6 rounds of zero and double zero, that only stopped when I played zero and double zero (of course). This situation is almost never going to happen in a real roulette game.
I’m a software engineer myself and I know when I see a good computer program or a bad one. I understand that it was time for the machine to start the ripping off process, but the manner, from a coding point of view, was barbaric.
Disappointed by the lack of skill of the coder who wrote the slot machine program, I decided to concentrate on drinking, after all, it was my birthday.
The evening wouldn’t have been complete without the fight we witnessed on the street, on our way back to the hotel. Two fellows, coming from opposite directions and realizing that the street is not big enough for both, started to punch each other. Watching them was both disturbing and amusing, after all, I was in Vegas where everything is possible.
The overall impression was great. It’s definitely a place where I would want to return for spending an entire weekend.
While doing one of my speed tours in Asia, I was in Hong Kong with a friend. Being our last day there and having the return flight to Europe late in the evening, we decided to spend the day in Macau. It was a unique opportunity to visit Macau, especially since you can easily get there from Hong Kong, using the turbojet ferry.
The trip takes around one hour and you can go to either the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal or Taipa Terminal. The Outer Harbour is good if you want to visit the old Macau, while Taipa is the best option for going directly to Cotai Strip, the equivalent of Las Vegas Strip in Macau. Since we wanted first to visit the Historic Center of Macau, we chose The Outer Harbour Terminal.
A former colony of Portugal, Macau retains a lot of Portuguese influence in its architecture. However, it reflects the Chinese culture too, representing an interesting marriage between the Eastern and Western cultures. You can see this cultural, architectural and religious synergy in the Historic Center. I recommend spending at least 2-3 hours in this area to get a better understanding of Macau’s history.
Grand Lisboa Hotel
After clearing immigration and officially entering Macau, we took one of the free shuttle buses that the main casinos offer. In our case, we took the one to Grand Lisboa hotel, the place where we had our first gambling experience in Macau.
The Grand Lisboa hotel, a modern extension of the Casino Lisboa complex, is 258 meters high and shaped like a giant golden lotus flower, the official emblem of Macau. At the time of my visit (December 2015), it was the tallest completed casino. Besides being a large structure, it also has an impressive architecture, so I think it definitely worth visiting this area.
Inside the casino, the atmosphere was more or less similar to the one in Vegas. A lot of people at the tables and slot machine, playing mostly Baccarat, the most popular game in Macau. After having a small incident with the security guys, for taking pictures inside the gambling area, we’ve started gambling at the slot machines. We didn’t spend too much time here since we were planning to visit the historic center and spend more time at The Venetian casino.
I found the overall vibe not as great as in Vegas, but I was here during the daytime, on a weekday. At night, especially on weekends, I’m almost sure you get to experience a more dynamic Macau.
The Cotai Strip
The Cotai Strip is a casino and hotel area, developed on the Las Vegas Strip model. Here you can find some of the popular Las Vegas casino branches like The Wynn or The Venetian, which at the time of my visit was the largest casino in the world. The construction of many other casino and hotel projects is currently underway, the area being part of a larger plan, meant to recreate a small-scale Las Vegas Strip.
Since The Venetian was one of the main attractions on our list, we entered, and soon we were back at the slot machines. The building is similar to the one I’ve seen in Las Vegas, only a bit larger. The gambling experience wasn’t too much different from Grand Lisboa.
One thing to note is that we managed to win back the money we’ve lost in the Grand Lisboa casino. While I was struggling to figure out how I can redeem the slot machine receipt from another machine, a Chinese grandma, that was behind me in the queue, lost her patience and showed me how to perform the operation. She looked pretty annoyed by my lack of skill, which was preventing her for returning to the gambling tables. I realized then that most of the people here are actually coming for gambling. This is one of the major differences between Macau and Las Vegas, where many visitors are there only for the nightlife.
Macau vs Las Vegas
I find Las Vegas more entertaining than Macau, where the focus is on gambling. If you are more interested in having fun, or enjoy partying, then Las Vegas seems the best option.
It is also more expensive to gamble in Macau, having higher limits for minimum bets. No wonder the Macau casinos make more money than the ones in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas seems more family-friendly, too, although not sure why would you bring your child to Sin City. On the other hand, Macau offers more in terms of culture and history.
Overall, I recommend going to both Macau and Las Vegas and have your own experience there. Both places deserve to be visited at least once.