Macau 2.0: Gambling mecca’s shiny, crazy, new attractions

CNN  — 

It’s known as the Asian Las Vegas but for most non-gambling visitors, Macau is anything but.

Despite raking in more money than Nevada’s Sin City, Macau possesses neither the electrifying party vibes of the desert gambling mecca nor the seaside glamor of yesteryear that Monaco’s casinos exude.

Instead, the former Portuguese colony brings to mind serious gamblers – the majority from Mainland China – hunched around high stakes limit tables, refueling on instant noodles and fried rice.

But that’s all set to change.

As part of a sustained effort to diversify and move the city beyond its high-stakes gambling reputation, the Macau government began issuing casino table licenses based on how many non-gambling attractions casinos could offer.

That in turn has spurred a wave of new dining, entertainment and hotel opportunities.

The first glimpse of a new, more well-rounded Macau came in May, with the opening of Galaxy Phase II and Broadway at Galaxy resorts.

It’s the first complex to open in the city in three years and unlike the first generation of casinos, has more facilities than you could shake a baccarat table or slot machine at.

Home to the world’s largest wave pool and rooftop aquatic ride, the new resort also adds three more hotels to the city including the first all-suite Ritz-Carlton hotel, the largest JW Marriott in all of Asia and the Broadway hotel.

Another newcomer, Melco Crown’s Hollywood-inspired Studio City debuted in October.

People stand outside the Studio City casino ahead of its opening in Macau on October 27, 2015. Casino operator Melco Crown was to open its latest resort Studio City as the city scrambles to diversify from gambling to the mass-market amid falling revenues.
Macau opens new $3.2B casino amid downturn
02:16 - Source: CNN

Not to be outdone by its rival, it features Asia’s highest Ferris wheel (the only one in the world to be shaped like a figure eight), a magic house theater, jungle river water ride, a Warner Bros. Batman ride and an outpost of the Ibiza megaclub franchise Pacha.

Melco Crown even enlisted acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese and A-listers Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio to promote the venue – flying them in for a star-studded opening bash featuring a special concert by Mariah Carey.

All this is a far cry from just a few years ago, when Cirque du Soleil was forced to pull its show “Zaia” at the Venetian Macau after visitors showed little interest in anything other than gambling.

In yet another bid to make the city more family-friendly, the government banned smoking from the main casino floors last year.

Smoking is still allowed in VIP rooms for the time being but it’s rumored that the authorities are mulling a complete indoor smoking ban.

Although Macau’s reputation won’t transform overnight, money talks and the casinos are throwing hundreds of millions at the project.

“I sometimes challenge my friends to try and spend more than 48 hours in Macau,” said Ibaham Math Ly Roun, T Galleria general manager at City of Dreams. “It’s still not there yet but it’s changing very fast.”

Currently, the average length of stay for visitors to Macau is less than a day.

“There are eight or nine Michelin-starred chefs coming over the next few years expanding their projects or developing new projects,” said Danny Allegretti, general manager of the 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana Macau restaurant.

The sister to the famed three-Michelin starred Italian restaurant in Hong Kong, this eatery makes its home in the new Ritz-Carlton hotel.

British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay also announced he’ll open his first Macau restaurant in the upcoming Sands resort scheduled for early next year.

Although final plans are still up in the air for casinos further down the pipeline, each one is promising restaurants helmed by critically acclaimed chefs, fantastic rides and luxurious accommodations.

Whether or not Macau can become a destination for visitors on its own rather than a day trip for those visiting Hong Kong remains to be seen.

Whether it can attract a truly international clientele – currently around two thirds come from mainland China – is an even bigger question.

But the Macau government is making short work of it with five more large resorts launching by 2017.

As the city’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam said in an April policy address, “We will transform Macau into a happy city.”