Macau was both the first and last European colony in China. Gambling in Macau was legalized in 1850, under Portuguese rule, and since that time it has been known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient.” In recent years Macau’s economy has enjoyed strong growth on the back of its expanding tourism and gaming sectors. After opening up its locally-controlled casino industry to foreign competition in 2001, the territory attracted tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment, transforming Macao into the world’s largest gaming center.
By 2006, Macau’s gaming revenue surpassed that of the Las Vegas strip, and gaming-related taxes accounted for 75% of total government revenue. In 2008, government revenue from gaming was set to double 2006 collections. The expanding casino sector, and China’s decision beginning in 2002 to relax travel restrictions, reenergized Macau’s tourism industry. This city of just over 500,000 hosted more than 30 million visitors in 2008. Almost 60% came from mainland China despite increasing restrictions on travel the combined total brought $13.7 billion in gross gaming receipts. Macau’s currency, the Pataca, is closely tied to the Hong Kong dollar, which is also freely accepted in the territory.
TIMELINE: Macau’s rise to world’s leading gambling hub (Source: Reuters)
Here is a summary of events marking Macau’s rapid rise over nearly a decade into the world’s leading gambling hub.
1999 – Macau reverts to Chinese rule after centuries as a Portuguese colony on the South China coast.
2002 – Macau frees up its gaming sector, ending a four-decade casino monopoly held by tycoon Stanley Ho, opening the former Portuguese colony to several Las Vegas gaming goliaths, including Wynn Resorts (WYNN.O) and Las Vegas Sands (LVS.N).
2002 – May – Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts win licenses to operate casinos in Macau, the only place on Chinese soil where casinos are legal.
2004 – U.S. gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson throws open the doors of the $240 million Sands Macao, the first major incursion by Las Vegas Sands’ into the lucrative market fueled by gambling-mad Chinese punters.
2006 – Sept – The Wynn Macau opens — the first by Wynn Resorts and tycoon Steve Wynn in Macau.
2006 – Gaming revenues in Macau eclipse those of the iconic Las Vegas strip, transforming the once sleepy former colony into the world’s biggest gaming market.
2007 – Aug – Sands opens the $2.4 billion Venetian Macao, the world’s biggest casino on Macau’s Cotai strip — with 3,000 hotel suites, 1,150 gaming tables and 7,000 slot machines.
2008 – Chinese authorities impose travel restrictions on Chinese visitors to Macau in a bid to curb the sector’s rampant growth.
2008 – April – Macau announces moves to rein in growth of the gambling sector by halting the issue of new gaming licenses, imposing a moratorium on land allocations for new casino developments and freezing the numbers of gaming tables or slot machines.
2008 – July – Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho launches an IPO for his casino flagship, Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM)
2008 – Nov – The debt-laden Las Vegas Sands halts construction of half-finished projects on the Cotai strip and lays off 11,000 construction workers in a stark sign of Macau’s slowdown and dwindling revenues amid the financial crisis.
2009 – May – Las Vegas Sands hires Goldman Sachs (GS.N) to look at a potential Hong Kong listing for its Macau unit, which could raise $2 billion later in the year.
2009 – Sept – Casino operators in Macau say visa restrictions have been quietly eased by Chinese authorities.
2009 – Oct – Wynn launches a $1.63 bln IPO, the world’s sixth-largest so far this year, for its Asian assets. Shares rise on improved investor sentiment and prospects toward Macau’s gaming sector.
2009 – Macau authorities say they may consider fresh restrictions to curb the growth of the gaming sector, including limits on gaming tables and raising the legal age limit on gamblers from 18 to 21 years.