Gambling Overview+ Back

No two gambling cities are ever the same.  Rules vary, comps vary, minimums vary, what you need to know before gambling there varies.  That's why I've prepared this concise overview of the Macau gaming scene, where you'll learn vital information about Macau's best and worst games, which comps are useful and how to make the most of your time and money in the Chinese version of Sin City. 



Macau has had legalised gambling since the 1850’s.  Fan Tan was the game of choice way back then, and there were more than 200 Fan Tan saloons in 1900.  In 1962, the industry took a big step forward when SJM secured a monopoly on all gambling city wide.  Besides introducing more Western style games, Stanley Ho’s massive conglomerate also improved the ferry system between Hong Kong and Macau, which brought a lot more people in. 


In 2001, SJM’s monopoly ended when 5 other concessionaires were granted casino licenses:  Galaxy, Sands, Melco Crown, Wynn and MGM.  This expansion ushered in the current era of Macau gaming, one characterized by unprecedented revenue growth and explosion.  In 2007, casino revenues stood at 10.5 billion US dollars a year.  By 2013, that number had swelled to 45.3 billion dollars, a 4.5 fold increase in 6 short years.  Year on Year increases averaged well over 30%, with the biggest jump occurring between 2009 and 2011, when casino revenues more than doubled in the space of 24 months.


The good times hit a wall in 2014 however, and many wondered if they’d ever come back.  Xi Jin Ping’s crackdown on mainland corruption led to a -2.6% YOY drop in gambling revenues from 2013 to 2014.  2015 was even worse, with casinos only earning 28.85 billion dollars, a whopping -36.2% YOY drop compared to the 44 billion they made in 2014.  The market took a year to stabilize in 2016 before registering a very encouraging 29.1% YOY increase in 2017.  With projections of a further 15% to 20% YOY increase in 2018, the future is looking rosy again for casino operators in Macau.  The long harsh winter of discontent appears to be over.


In somewhat of a shocker, Galaxy was the market leader in 2017 accounting for 22.3% of all gaming revenues, followed closely by Las Vegas Sands in second place at 21.7%.  Given Las Vegas Sands domination of the Cotai Strip, I would have expected them to finish first, but poor performance in the VIP sector ended their reign at the top.  SJM (16.7%), Melco Crown (16.1%) and Wynn (16.1%) ran neck to neck in the middle, with only MGM lagging significantly at the bottom (6.9%).  Once MGM Cotai opens in February 2018, I expect their market share to approach the teens within 12 months, mostly at the expense of the two companies at the top, Galaxy and Sands.

In general, the six casino operators all run their casinos in the same way, so there aren’t any major differences between them.  All in all, only two things stand out to me: Las Vegas Sands casinos tend to have the best range of games, while the comps are generally worst in SJM casinos, the majority of which are satellite outlets, controlled by third party operators. 


The overwhelming majority of Macau’s 40 casinos are located in 3 principal zones: the area around the Macau Ferry Terminal, the Amizade Strip and the Cotai Strip.

The 11 casinos around the Ferry Terminal are mostly smaller venues run by SJM, with the lone exception being the Sands, the only monster casino in the area.  A 10 minute walk west along Avenue D’Amizade will bring you to the main Amizade strip, home to 13 casinos, the most significant of which are the Wynn, MGM, Lisboa, and Grand Lisboa

The new development zone for Macau gaming is the Cotai Strip, an area of reclaimed land between Taipa and Coloane, which used to be two islands.  Now it’s all one large land mass, and where you'll find all of Macau's newest casinos, like the Venetian, City of Dreams, Galaxy, Sands Cotai, Studio City, Wynn Palace, Parisian and MGM Cotai. By 2019, they should be joined by two new properties: the Lisboa Palace, and Louis 13, both of which are currently under construction.  It’s all part of Macau’s grand scheme to turn Cotai into a mini Vegas.  


Macau Ferry Terminal casinos Sands Oceanus Grand Lapa Golden Dragon map Amizade Strip Macau Casinos Wynn MGM Grand Lisboa Starworld map Macau Cotai Strip Casinos Venetian Galaxy City of Dreams Studio City map



The currency of choice in casinos is Hong Kong Dollars, although a few places also accept Macau Patacas, aka Mops.

Tipping dealers is rare, so don’t feel the need to do it.  Of course, if you wish to do so, it won’t be refused.


The Macau government made all mass gaming areas on casino floors go 100% smoke free in October 2014, something I thought would never fly, particularly in Asia.  Hats off to them, it’s been a wonderful development.

The land of Baccarat 

As mentioned above, Macau officially has 40 casinos but I’ve never bought that line.  To me, a casino is a place that offers a wide range of games (around 5 at least), along with some slots and video poker.  If judged by that criteria, then half of the casinos in Macau aren’t what I'd call casinos at all, but Baccarat Halls instead.  A Baccarat Hall is a place where 95% of the tables are Baccarat and only two or three other games are offered, most likely Sic Bo and Blackjack (and those tables might not even open.)  To me, that’s not a casino and unless Baccarat is your game you can avoid these places completely.  Just leave them to the Chinese.

For a broader selection of games, you need to think big, as in the “Big 12” casinos: Sands, Venetian, Sands Cotai, Parisian, Galaxy, Studio City, City of Dreams, Grand Lisboa, Wynn, Wynn Palace, MGM, and MGM Cotai.   Truth be told, 95% of the tables in those casinos are Baccarat as well, but at least they offer 5 or 6 other games too.  Besides the Big 12 casinos, Ponte 16, Pharaoh’s Palace, Oceanus, and the Lisboa are excellent venues as well, although the latter is very Chinese.  I like them because the game selection is just as good as the Big 12 casinos (and sometimes better) while the minimums are a touch lower. 

Which brings me to my next point….

The stakes are high and so am I

Macau is an extremely expensive place to gamble.  At the Big 12 casinos, standard minimums start at $300 HKD, or 40 US dollars.  Ouch.  Electronic gaming machines have inundated the market recently that offer lower minimums of $20 to $100 - but so what?  They’re electronic gaming machines, so they’re not as fun, and you can only play Baccarat, Sic Bo, and Roulette on them anyway.  As far as $100 Western style games go, Blackjack, Caribbean Stud Poker, Craps, Roulette and War still remain, but you might have to go to a Baccarat Hall to play it. 

In fact, you ask me what my biggest criticism of Macau gaming is, it’s that there aren’t enough low limit tables.  Or to put it another way, that I’m not rich enough to play there!

Here are notable $50 and $100 games still offered in the city.


  $50 Baccarat: Taipa Casino
$100 Baccarat: Crystal Palace, Diamond, Eastern, Jai Alai, Paradise Kampek, Taipa Square

$100 Blackjack: Babylon, Casa Real, Diamond, Eastern, Jai Alai, Ponte 16


$100 Caribbean Stud Poker: Pharaohs Palace

$100 Craps: City of Dreams, Studio City  (In non-peak hours only)


$100 Fan Tan: Casa Real (Fam, Nim, Kwok bets) 

$100 Pai Gow: Lisboa

  $50 Roulette:
Parisian, Sands, Sands Cotai
$100 Roulette: Galaxy, Grand Lisboa, Legend Palace, Pharaohs Palace, Plaza, Venetian 

$50 Sic Bo: Casa Real, Eastern, Golden Dragon, Grandview, Jai Alai, Oceanus


$100 Three Card Baccarat: Crystal Palace, Golden Dragon, Grandview, Jai Alai


$100 War: Parisian, Sands Cotai

To ensure the list is up to date, you can always double check using the Search Games function found here: Macau Games.

Good rules

Ok it’s expensive, but at least the rules are good, at least compared to Vegas.  Macau has 5 games with a house edge under 1.25%: Blackjack, Craps, Baccarat, Fan Tan and Pai Gow, if you’re banking at the Lisboa


The best Craps is found at the City of Dreams and Studio City (5 times odds) while the Wynn and MGM’s EZ Baccarat or Dragon 7 Baccarat is the best Baccarat in town (1.02% Banker bet).  The standard number city wide for Blackjack is only 0.16%, which is obviously quite good.  However, every casino uses an electronic shuffler, so forget about counting.  

After these 5 games the good times end, as all other games are over 2%.  For the best rule among these 2% plus games look no further than Roulette.  All the tables in the city are single 0, a substantial improvement over the double 0 wheels that pollute Las Vegas.  Speaking of which…
Macau is nothing like Vegas

I’ve met a lot of people who don’t enjoy gambling in Macau.  They say it’s not fun and they’re probably right.  Party pits, free flow booze, friendly dealers, hot waitresses working it for tips, a festive fun atmosphere… no, no, no, no and no.  Gambling is a serious venture in Macau and the vibe on the floor reflects it.  The vast majority of casinos are entertainment free with absolutely nothing going on, other than some background music if you’re lucky. 

It probably also doesn’t help that you lose the banter with other players and the dealers, since 99% of the dealers and 97% of the other players can’t speak English.  No one really drinks anything either and from what I've been able to gather, only MGM, Wynn, Wynn Palace and the Grand Lisboa serve free booze.  (And the Grand Lisboa will only give it to you if you're gambling at a table too, not on the slots or electronic games).  In no particular order, I've been denied free drinks at Galaxy, Venetian, City of Dreams, Studio City and Sands Cotai, so good luck there, however you might get lucky if you ask the right server.  The best free drinks are found at the Plaza casino, but you’ll be paying for it when you make your bets.  It’s certainly not a cheap place to play.

Player cards and promotions

I’ve stopped writing down the information related to promotions, because there aren’t enough good ones going around to make a difference.  The vast majority of Baccarat Halls do nothing, and while most Casinos will put something on, I don’t think they’re very useful for the recreational gambler.  Besides that, I think some of the promotions are rigged anyway.  I’ve participated in many a daily draw that just looked like an out and out sham.  Judging from the reaction of the winners, they knew they had it locked up before the numbers were called. 

Player cards are widespread in Macau and 95% of casinos offer them.  The process is the same as everywhere else - just insert the card into the slot machine or hand it to the floorman before you start playing.  Points are then credited to the card according to how much you gamble which can later be redeemed for gifts and prizes.  Most of the nicer prizes like MacBooks and iPhones require a huge amount of points and you’re much better off just going to a store and buying what you want outright, rather than chasing it in a casino.  The shiny gift redemption catalogues sure look nice, but it takes a massive effort to redeem anything halfway worthwhile.

For that reason, I think the best promotions in Macau are tied to daily point accumulation, especially for recreational gamblers.  Most Sands and Galaxy casinos will offer those, so you should be able score free ferry tickets or a meal at least, if you gamble long enough.  For information on Galaxy promotions, just visit their useful website here: GEG Rewards.

Player cards are also useful for shopping and dining discounts when frequenting the hotel’s shops and restaurants.  In general, the discounts range from 5 to 20%, which is not inconsequential.

All the best comps in Macau are reserved for the high rollers, aka VIPs, aka whales.  Free rooms are available at smaller hotels like Taipa Square and Grandview after buy ins of $10,000 or $20,000, while a nicer place like the Sofitel requires $60,000.  The downside is that you can only play Baccarat afterwards.  If you have a much larger bankroll ($100,000 plus) the options really open up in the form of private junkets or VIP dead chip programs that return cash back rebates and other room and dining comps.  For more information on that, please click the link for the VIP Intro.


Let’s talk a bit about the games in more detail now.


House Edge & Element of Risk

The chart below lists every game in Macau, ranked in order from best game to worst game.  Games are judged according to their best bet, the one that results in the lowest House Edge or Element of Risk.  (The lower the number the better, a House Edge of 0% means you can expect to lose $0 per each $100 bet, which is a completely fair game.  A house edge of 1% means you can expect to lose $1 for every $100 bet.)  



The chart also assumes you follow optimal strategy which is usually very easy to learn.  Most games don’t even require you to make any kind of strategic decision at all, you just bet then win or lose.  For information on optimal strategy,  the Gambling Quiz has you (mostly) covered, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, just leave a question on the message board and I’ll try and help. 

Generally speaking, the best advice I can give you in relation to gambling is not to do it.  If you are going to gamble though, the next best advice would be to only play games where you have an advantage.  To my knowledge, the only bet in Macau which results in a player edge is counting the Dragon 7 side bet in EZ Baccarat.  Other than that, you have to hope a dealer is hole carding something somewhere.  Barring that, I recommend sticking to games with the lowest house edge and only playing those. 


I’d like to conclude by going a little bit more in-depth into Macau’s Blackjack and Texas Hold 'Em. 



A decade ago, Blackjack in Macau was like the Wild West - there was no order and it seemed like every casino played by their own rules.  It was confusing and contradictory, but ultimately good for the player, with a 0% house edge game at Pharaohs Palace and 0.08% at Wynn and MGM.  Unfortunately those killer games have bit the dust and we’re left with a Blackjack scene that is much more streamlined now.  If you're looking for positives, a standardized set of rules means there’s less basic strategy to learn so you should be able to confidently walk into any casino in town knowing what to do and the best way to play the game. 

Of the 26 casinos in town that offer Blackjack, 17 of them follow these rules:  

- Five or six decks
- Dealer sticks on soft 17
- Player may double after their first 2 cards on any total, and may also double after splitting
- Player can split up to 3 times to make 4 hands; however aces can only be split once
- Early surrender is always available, except when the dealer has an ace
- Continuous shuffler is utilized

Under these rules, the house edge is 0.15% (5 decks) or 0.16% (6 decks).

The following casinos are exceptions.


A couple of notes about the chart above.  The Sands casinos are strange, and so is the Sands casino itself.  I got conflicting information about their rules from two different dealers on the same day, which is pretty hard to fathom.  You’d also think all of the Sands casinos would play by the same rules too, but they were very adamant at Sands Cotai that splitting vs a dealer Blackjack also loses both bets.  Bottom line?  Don't bother with Blackjack in any Sands casino anyway, because they clearly have the worst rules in town.   

Lan Kwai Fong still has a Blackjack table on the floor, but I haven’t seen it open in months.  According to my latest information from 2015, the house edge on that game was 0.09% because you could split Aces up to 4 hands.  If that table ever opens again, then it could be the best Blackjack in Macau, but I personally think it’s finished.


Texas Hold 'Em


In 2017, gross revenue for Texas Hold ‘Em in 2017 was 322 million Patacas, which made it the 11th most profitable casino game, in front of Craps but behind Fan Tan.  In other words, it’s not a big cash cow for casinos so that’s probably why only 6 of them offer it: Babylon, Wynn, Venetian, City of Dreams, Galaxy and Wynn Palace.  The poker rooms at Wynn Palace and Babylon have struggled to find a following, so your best bet for a cash game is to try the Wynn, Venetian and Galaxy, in that order.  Cash games generally start from $25/$50 and go all the way up to $1000/$2000.  At the Wynn and Venetian, expect to wait for a seat at the table, especially during peak hours.  Just leave your number at the sign in counter and they’ll phone you when a place opens up, which could take up to three or four hours.

The City of Dreams owns the monopoly on daily tournaments and major regional tournaments alike, thanks to their extremely successful partnership with Poker Star Macau.  For more information on upcoming events and what they offer, please follow the link to their website here: Poker Stars Macau.

The Wynn is said to have the nicest poker room and the most experienced players, while the rake at the Venetian is the highest at 5 percent.  Chinese poker players online have the reputation of being extremely tight, and the same is true of the action in Macau.  Money is not being haphazardly thrown across the table by misguided Baccarat whales the way it was a decade ago, so you’ll have to work quite a bit and have Lady Luck on your side for any kind of significant windfall.


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To learn more about Macau's VIP scene, please click the link here: VIP Intro.  We also have infomation about VIP Rates and a fun Gambling Quiz!