Bringing Macau To Life

The Chinese protectorate of Macau may now outstrip Las Vegas in gambling revenue but, because of an assumption that Chinese visitors were interested only in gaming, has paid precious little attention to live entertainment.

That’s about to change with the influx of American casino interests in the former Portuguese colony – especially if it wants to compete with Vegas as an all-around tourist destination.

Macau became a special administrative zone when it was turned over to China in 1999. As the only place in China where gambling is legal, it took in about $10 billion in gambling revenue last year, compared with about $7 billion in Vegas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

About 10.5 million Chinese mainland visitors came to gamble in Macau, according to statistics from the Pacific Asia Travel Association quoted by the WSJ, and nearly 15 million are expected next year.

Since 1994, when the Chinese government ended Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho’s monopoly on Macauan gaming, foreign companies have invested heavily in casino operations, including Wynn Resorts and MGM Mirage from the U.S. and Crown resorts of Australia. But live entertainment has remained a big question mark.

"This is a very new market," a Wynn Macau spokeswoman said.

"No one really knows what people are looking for here," Jennifer Welker, author of travel guide "The New Macau," told WSJ. "They’re still in that testing phase."

So far, entertainment is limited at the more than 25 casino resorts in Macau. A 5-minute water and light show set to music is reportedly the extent of it at Wynn Casino. The Crown Macau depends on a spa and eight restaurants to keep guests occupied when they’re not gambling.

The Grand Lisboa, by comparison, offers a plethora of entertainment. Two shows are there: a free daily can-can style dance performance called "Crazy Paris" and "Tokyo Nights," featuring Japanese dancers.

But despite a ban on casino advertising and a reported taxi shortage there, some big-name draws are opting for Macau rather than Hong Kong.

For example, in October the NBA’s Orlando Magic and Cavaliers, as well as the China men’s national team, played at the 15,000-seat Venetian Arena. The Police performed there in early February and Celine Dion is due this month for a night as part of her world tour.

The Venetian appears to be making live entertainment a permanent fixture as well, with the construction of an 1,800-seat theatre to house a Cirque du Soleil show, which is slated to take over the room starting this summer, the Journal reports.