Debunking Vegas Myths: Las Vegas is Not the World’s Gambling Capital


Posted on: December 4, 2023, 08:14h.

Last updated on: November 30, 2023, 09:54h.

What happens in Macau apparently stays there, too, because few Las Vegas admirers realize that this Chinese city has been the gambling capital of the world for 15 of the last 18 years.

The Wynn
Another Wynn resort operates in the gambling capital of the world — Macau, China. (Image: poker.org)

Sin City began playing second fiddle in annual gambling revenue in 2006 when Macau — the only place in China that allows gambling — edged past it for the first time, generating $6.95 billion in GGR to Vegas’ $6.69 billion. Since then, the distance has mostly widened. By 2019, Macau reported $36 billion in annual gambling revenue, nearly six times Las Vegas’ reported total of $6.6 billion.

That’s why the company once owned by the late billionaire Sheldon Adelson now operates exclusively in Macau and Singapore, even though they still name themselves Las Vegas Sands. In a deal completed last year, the company sold its Venetian, Palazzo, and Venetian Expo in Las Vegas to Apollo Global Management and VICI Properties for a reported $6.25 billion.

In Macau, a small Chinese port city of around 680K people that measures 12.7 square miles, casino taxes account for more than 80% of local government revenue. (Image: Shutterstock)

Cash Macau

Macau (alternately spelled Macao) is a former Portuguese colony on the coast near Hong Kong. It was returned to Chinese control in 1999 and, after a monopoly on gaming concessions once held by Stanley Ho, the late “King of Macau,” and his family expired in 2002, became the new Wild West for casino development.

Though gambling on the mainland has been illegal since 1949, China allows it in Macau due to the area’s status as a “special administrative region.”

Las Vegas Sands opened its first casino there in 2004, followed by Wynn Resorts two years later, and MGM Resorts in 2007. Combined, they invested $20 billion in luxury hotels, giant casinos, and VIP suites to cater to the enormous gambling appetite of the mainland Chinese.

For investors, one of the big lures is that, on average, the city’s gambling tables pull in about seven times more money than tables in Las Vegas,” the New York Times reported in 2007. “The winnings are a testament to how serious the gamblers are in this part of the world, despite the fact that income per person in China averages just $1,700 a year.”

By 2019, Macau accounted for 70% of Wynn’s business and 66% of Las Vegas Sands’. (MGM didn’t break down its annual revenue by country.)

Macau’s pandemic quarantine restrictions decimated tourism for years. (Image: Reuters)

The Pandemic Technicality

From 2020 through August 2023, Las Vegas regained its title as the world’s gambling capital, but that was only on a technicality. The strict, weeks-long COVID-19 quarantine restrictions imposed by Beijing’s “zero COVID” policy decimated Macau’s visitorship from 39 million in 2019 to 5.9 million a year later.

Adding to the hurt was Beijing’s simultaneous crackdown on junkets — organized tours that help high rollers evade capital controls and move large sums of money from Macau to the mainland.

Macau saw its $36 billion in 2019 gambling revenue dwindle to $7.56 billion in 2020, allowing Las Vegas to inch ahead with only $7.87 billion, its lowest annual total in the past 25 years.

China resumed quarantine-free travel in August 2022, and Macau removed all quarantine restrictions in January.

In the first half of 2023, Macau already reclaimed its throne when gross gambling revenue reached nearly $10 billion, trouncing Las Vegas’ $7.5 billion for the same period, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Short of another pandemic, it’s a good bet this trend won’t reverse again.

Look for “Vegas Myths Busted” every Monday on Casino.org. To read previously busted Vegas myths, visit VegasMythsBusted.com. Got a suggestion for a Vegas myth that needs busting? Email corey@casino.org.



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