Tiny Macau, a special administrative region of China, has seen its low-key colonial character give way to massive commercial and tourist development.
The former Portuguese colony, a near neighbour of Hong Kong, occupies a small peninsula and two islands off China's southern coast.
Its economy revolves around tourism. Macau has capitalised on its long history as a gambling centre, drawing many thousands of visitors from China and Hong Kong.
The development’s 796 luxury apartments will single-handedly drag the quality of the housing stock in this former Portuguese colony up a notch. And Macao, now an autonomous special administrative region of China, is looking forward to the lift.
Like a player on a bad streak at the tables, little had been going right for the city in recent months, even though it recently replaced Las Vegas as the world’s largest gambling market by total revenue.
Macao, the former Portuguese colony on the coast of southern China, has all it takes to compete with the gambling capitals of the world — glamour, gaming-crazed customers and, as of last year, its own version of Venice’s Rialto Bridge. Macao, now a special administrative zone within China, has become synonymous with the economic success of the country’s growth.
They call him the 'King of Macau' — and that's no mere flourish. Stanley Ho, an enigmatic billionaire and one-time ballroom dancer, built a multi-billion dollar gambling empire that's shaped almost every part of the former Portuguese colony on China's southern coast. He's weathered invasion by foreign competitors, forged alliances with the political elite, and fathered an impressive number of heirs — 17, by four women.
Macau is no Hong Kong, for sure. Its population of 430,000 is only one-fifteenth that of its neighbor, and its economy even smaller in proportion. Where Hong Kong is a kaleidoscope of trade, finance and high-profit services, Macau is a shadowy blur of blackjack, roulette, poker and prostitution.
Under the current "one country, two systems" policy -- which defines China's policy toward its two SARs --, Hong Kong and Macau enjoy a high degree of autonomy, a capitalist economy and a political system separate from the mainland. Mainland China, however, is responsible for the defense of the two regions as well as their foreign affairs.
These stipulations are slated to end when the two regions are reintegrated with mainland China in 2047 and 2049, respectively.
Macau has experienced very strong economic growth in recent years, underpinned by liberalisation of the gaming industry and high levels of investment in associated property and tourism infrastructure. Gaming has been licensed in Macau since 1850 and the region is the only part of China where casinos are permitted to operate. The Global Financial Crisis resulted in a severe but short-lived recession with the Macau economy contracting by more than 13 per cent in 2009 then rebounding strongly in 2010.
Fishermen from Fujian and farmers from Guangdong were the first known settlers in Macau, when it was known as Ou Mun, or "trading gate", because of its location at the mouth of the Pearl River downstream from Guangzhou (Canton). During ancient times port city was part of the Silk Road with ships loading here with silk for Rome.
Macau, a former Portuguese territory, is the only place in China where casinos are legal.
It opened up the gambling market to foreign firms in 2002 and Sands was the first company to launch a Las Vegas-style casino in the territory.
Macau's gambling market has witnessed tremendous growth since then and various new casinos have sprung up in a bid to cash in on the continuing boom.
The $4.4 billion Sands Cotai Central will be the only casino resort to open this year in Macau as the government has yet to give approval for any further developments on the Cotai Strip, the stretch of reclaimed land connecting the Taipa and Coloane islands.
While the Macau peninsula tends to attract China’s hardcore gamblers, the more expansive Cotai Strip is home to several massive casino resorts more oriented towards the mass market with its entertainment, dining and high-end shopping offerings.