Macau, also known as Macao, is located on the western side of the Pearl River estuary, near Hong Kong. China leased the territory to Portugal in 1557, and in 1887 Portugal was given perpetual rights over the land. In 1999, Macau stopped being a Portuguese colony and once again became a part of China. Today, it is formally known as the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Since its a special administrative region, its system of government is formally separate from that of mainland China.
Macau has a long history of legalized gambling and is today known as the “Las Vegas of the Orient” because of its many casinos. Although, it would be more correct to call Las Vegas the “Macau of the West” since Macau’s gambling industry is seven times as large as the one in Las Vegas.
Macau has a well-developed tourist sector. Many of the visitors come from other parts of China, but Macau is also a sough after international destination – especially among gamblers.
Where is Macau?
Macau is located on China’s southern coast, on the western side of the Pearl River estuary. It’s surrounded by the South China Sea to the east and south. To the west and north, Macau borders Zhuhai, a city in Guangdong.
Macau is roughly 60 km west of Hong Kong.
How’s the climate in Macau?
Macau has a humid subtropical climate.
May to September is considered summer, October is autumn, November to February is winter (by subtropical standards), and March and April are the spring months.
The summer monsoon brings a lot of warm and humid air to Macau from the ocean, and the summer is therefore characterized by frequent rains. This is also the primary season for typhoons, which bring both very strong winds and really heavy rainfall.
The winter is brought on by northern winds from the continent that bring colder and dryer air. During the winter season, it rains much less than during the summer.
The lowest recorded temperature in Macau is −1.8 °C (28.8 °F), recorded on 26 January 1948.
The heat record is 38.9 °C (102.0 °F), recorded on both 2 July and 6 July 1930.
Understanding the layout of Macau
Macau is comprised of three main parts:
- The Macau Peninsula
There is also a small (1 km2) parcel of land in neighbouring Hengquin island that falls under the regional Macau government’s jurisdiction. This is where you find the University of Macau.
A majority of the population lives on the Macau Peninsula, which was originally an island before a sandbar formed between it and the mainland. Natural sedimentation expanded the peninsula, and human efforts also changed the landscape, creating more liveable land through manual land reclamation.
Taipa and Coloane are connected with each other through an area of reclaimed land called Cotai. Many of the newer casinos and resorts are found on Cotai.
The seven parishes
The Portuguese divided Macau into seven parishes:
|Portuguese name||Chinese name||Area (km2)|
|Nossa Senhora do Carmo||嘉模堂區||7.9|
|São Francisco Xavier||聖方濟各堂區||7.6|
|Sé (Freguesia da Sé)||大堂區||3.4|
|Nossa Senhora de Fátima||花地瑪堂區||3.2|
Some parts of modern Macau are not a part of the old parish system since they were created later. This is, for instance, true for the Cotai (路氹填海區) and New District Zone A (新城A區).
Facts about Macau
How big is Macau?
The total ara is 115.3 km2, of which nearly 74% is water.
In the late 19th century, the total land area in Macau was less 11 square kilometres, but in 2018 the land area had increased to 32.9 km2 due to so-called land reclamation. (Parts of the surrounding sea was filled up and turned into liveable land.)
Macau’s jurisdiction over the surrounding sea was expanded by the Chinese authorities in 2015, as Macau was granted an additional 85 km2 of maritime territory.
Macau’s jurisdiction also includes an artificial island where border checkpoint facilities are located for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
How many people live in Macau?
Over 650,000 people live in Macau (2017 estimate), making it very densely populated.
Chinese and Portuguese are both official languages in Macau.
The version of Chinese called Cantonese is the majority language of the Pearl River Delta, and the dominant language in both Macau and Hong Kong.
The Macau pataca, also known as the Macanese pataca, is the official currency of Macao.
Subdivision: 1 Macau pataca consists of 100 avos.
The Macau pataca is 100% backed by foreign reserves. At the time of writing, the foreign reserve consists of Hong Kong dollars. The Monetary Authority of Macau has a statutory obligation to redeem Macau pataca for Hong Kong dollars on demand, at a fixed exchange rate of $1 Hong Kong dollar = 1.03 Macau Pataca.
Highest point: Appr. 170 metres above sea level, at Coloane Alto
Time zone: UTC+8 (Macau Standard Time)
Calling code: +853
Internet TLD: mo
ISO 3166 code: MO
Macau & Gambling
In the 1850s, the Portuguese government legalized gambling in Macau, and this was the start of Macau’s history as a renowned destination for legal gambling. Back then, Chinese games dominated in the establishments, e.g. Fan-Tan.
Today, gambling tourism accounts for around 50% of Macau’s economy, and almost 80% of government funding comes from gambling. The gambling sector’s part of the GDP was actually even higher a few years ago, when – in 2013 – it peaked at over 60% of GDP. Since then, it has dropped down to roughly 50% of GDP.
A majority of the visitors are Chinese citizens arriving from mainland China or Hong Kong, where casino gambling is not legal. Even though most visitors are Asian, games of European origin – such as roulette and baccarat – became very popular in the 20th century.
By 2016, Macau’s revenue from gambling was about seven times larger than that of Las Vegas.
After Macau had been handed over to China by Portugal at the end of the 20th century, several big casino companies headquartered in the United States and Australia won open biddings and were granted permission to build and operate large-scale casinos in Macau. Prior to 2001, this had not been possible, since the Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho held a long-term gambling monopoly in Macau. This monopoly was ended by the government when Macau seized to be a Portuguese colony.
MGM Macau, Venetian Macau, Sands Macao, and Wynn Macau are all examples of casinos that opened in Macau during the first decade after the end of Stanley Ho’s monopoly.
All legal casino operations in Macau operate under a government franchise and must adhere to a common set of rules.
Casino Games in Macau
A wide range of casino games is available in Macau. Some – such as Sic Bo and Fan Tan – are of Asian origin, but European games are also widely popular. You can, for instance, play Roulette, Blackjack, and Baccarat here.
Just as in the rest of the world, a lot of casino floor space is devoted to slot machines.
Poker in Macau
Poker is a fairly new addition to Macau’s casino world. Electronic poker tables were introduced in August 2007, by Galaxy StarWorld casino. In November 2007, the first official live poker events where held in Macau, as a part of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT). In February 2008, the first live-dealer cash game tables for poker in Macau were opened, in Grand Lisboa Casino. Examples of other casinos in Macau where you can play live-dealer cash game poker nowadays are Wynn Macau, Galaxy StarWorld, and the Venetian Macau.
Casinos in Macau
Most casino’s in Macau (around two dozen) are located on the Macau Peninsula, but there is also ten on Taipa Island.
Examples of casinos on the Macau Peninsula
- Casino Lisboa
- Grand Lisboa
- L’Arc Casino
- MGM Grand Macau
- Wynn Macau
Examples of casinos on the Cotai Strip
- City of Dreams
- Galaxy Macau
- Pousada Marina Infante
- Sands Cotai Central
- Studio City
- The Parisian
- Venetian Macao
- Wynn Palace
Examples of casinos on Taipa Island
- Altira Macau
The Cotai Strip
The Cotai Strip is the hotel-casino strip located in the Cotai part of Macau. It resembles the Las Vegas Strip, but on a smaller scale. The first casinos on the Cotai Strip opened their doors during the second half of the noughties. Some examples of early establishments are Grand Waldo (now Broadway Macau), The Venetian and The Plaza Macao (both owned by Sands), and the City of Dreams Macau (owned by Melco PBL Holdings).
The Las Vegas Sands Corporation coined the term Cotai Strip and holds the U.S. Patent for the term, but in the media, it has become fairly standard to use the term as a reference to all hotel-casinos in Cotai – regardless of who owns them.
Examples of hotel-casinos along the Cotai Strip
The Venetian Macao
- Has 3,000 suites
- Includes the Venetian Theatre, Cotai Expo, and Cotai Arena
- Owned by Las Vegas Sands Corporation
The Plaza Macao
- Includes the Four Seasons Hotel Macao with 360 suites
City of Dreams Macau
- Grand Hyatt Macau: 791 suites
- Hard Rock Hotel Macau: 380 suites
- Crown Towers Macau: 300 suites
- Owned by Melco PBL Holdings
- Galaxy Hotel: 1,500 suites
- JW Marriott Hotel Macau: 600 suites
- Hotel Okura: 450 suites
- Banyan Tree Macau: 250 suites
- The Ritz-Carlton Macau: 250 suites
- Includes The Grand Resort Deck and UA Galaxy Cinemas.
- Owned by Galaxy Entertainment Group.
- Broadway Hotel: 200 suites
- Includes the Broadway Theatre.
- Used to be the Grand Waldo.
- The Wynn Palace Resort Hotel: 1,700 suites
- Includes the Climax nightclub
- Owned by Wynn Resorts.
Horse racing in Macau
In 1980, the Macau Trotting Club was formed in an attempt to introduce harness racing in Macau, but the effort failed and in 1989 a thoroughbred racing club was created instead. This type of horse racing proved to be much more popular, and the Macau Jockey Club is still active today and has become one of the largest private employers in Macau.
The race course
The race course, which is located on Taipa Island, encompasses 450,000 square meters and have 18,000 seats. You have to be at least 18 years old to enter.
Horse racing events are normally held on every Thursday + Saturday or Sunday.
How to bet
There are over two hundred betting terminals at the race course, where you can bet in Macau patacas or Hong Kong dollars. Bets are accepted up to the start of the race.
You can bet by giving oral instructions or by filling out a form.
Off-course betting at the Betting Centres in Macau
Betting terminals are located in Off-Course Betting Centres in other parts of Macau. There are roughly a dozen such centres in the city, with a combined total of 80+ betting terminals.
Off-course betting at Service Centres in Hong Kong
There are three Service Centres in Hong Kong where you can place your bets: The Mongkok Service Centre, the Shaukeiwan Service Centre, and the Sheung Wan Service Centre.
Launched back in 1997, the Fast Access Terminal (FAT) is a personal betting terminal for horse racing in Macau. In addition to placing bets, it offers a wide range of other features, such as record tracking, calculation of bet units, race-odds info, etc.
It is possible to place bets over the phone. You don’t have to use your own phone if you don’t want to since there are over 600 telephone service terminals in Macau.
Betting on the races online has been possible since 2003. The site address is Macauhorsebet.com.
Greyhound racing in Macau
As of 21 July, 2018, there is no more greyhound racing in Macau. On this date, the Canidrome racetrack on Avenida General Castelo Branco in Nossa Senhora de Fátima closed. Prior to this, races where held five days a week.
The Macau Grand Prix
The Macau Grand Prix (Grande Prémio de Macau / 澳門格蘭披治大賽車) is an annual motorsport street race for both cars and motorcycles. Mixing cars and motorcycles in the same race is unusual for official street races and gives the Macau Grand Prix a very special atmosphere.
The event is held over a long weekend, starting on a Thursday and continuing through Sunday. Typically, the second or third week of November is selected for the event.
Thursday and Friday are normally devoted to practice drives and qualification events, with all the real events taking place on Saturday and Sunday. Sunday is considered the highlight of the weekend since this is when the most prestigious races are held.
The Guia Circuit is 6.2 km long and considered very challenging since it is rife with fast straights and tight corners. At some places, the width is just seven metres.
The Macau Formula Three Grand Prix
For many visitors, the most important of all the races during the weekend is the Macau Formula Three Grand Prix. This race attracts F3 champion drivers from all over the world.
The event’s roots stretch back to 1954, when it was a pure sports car event chiefly attended by local sports car owners. In 1961, the title race became an open-wheel Formula Libre event, and the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix was launched in 1976.
In 2005-2014, the Macau Grand Prix constituted the final round of the World Touring Car Championship and thus held world championship status.
The annual Dragon Boat Festival in Macau
The annual Dragon Boat Festival in Macau is held on the 5th day of the 5th month in Chinese Lunar Calendar, which means late May or in June, depending on the year. The Dragon Boat festival is not unique to Macau; it is celebrated on this day in many different parts of China.
In Macau, the dragon boat races take place on Nam Van Lake by the historic Praia Grande shorefront, with both local and foreign teams participating in the various men’s and women’s dragon boat divisions, cheered on by large crowds.
In addition to the boat races, the festival in Macau includes a lot of other festivities, including lion dances in the streets and Chinese opera performed in a specially constructed bamboo shed outside an old temple.
Hac Sa – the largest beach in Macau
The largest natural beach in Macau is Hac Sa. Located in the Coloane parish (Freguesia de São Francisco Xavier) in southern Macau, the beach is a part of the Hac Sa Reservoir Country Park. A stream runs all the way from the reservoir to the central part of the beach.
The name Hac Sa literally means famous black sand. Today, however, the sand on this beach is no longer black, because the government brings in yellow sand. Manually adding sand to the beach is necessary to keep it from disappearing due to erosion. The dark colour of the original sand was caused by minerals from the water.
Historic Centre of Macau – a UNESCO World Heritage
The Historic Centre of Macao has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2005. It is a collection of over twenty different locations within the old city centre, with its unique blend of Portuguese and Chinese elements, and also heavily influenced by Macau’s long history as an international trading centre by the coast.
Area: 16.1678 ha (39.952 acres)
Buffer zone: 106.791 ha (263.89 acres)
Coordinates: 22°11′28.65″N 113°32′11.26″E
The two zones
The Historic Centre of Macau is comprised of two separate zones, and each zone is surrounded by a buffer area. Zone 1 is a narrow stretch found between Mount Hill and Barra Hill, while Zone 2 consists of Guia Hill. At Guia Hill, you’ll find the Guia Fortress with the Guia Chapel and the Guia Lighthouse.
Examples of notable landmarks in the Historic Centre of Macau
- The A-Ma Temple at Barra Square was built in 1488 and is dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen. Unsurprisingly, Matsu is a prominent diety in this coastal city, and even the name Macau is believed to be derived from either Matsu or the name of her temple.
- Along Saint Augustine’s Square, you’ll find Saint Augustine’s Church, the Dom Pedro V Theatre, and Sir Robert Ho Tung’s Library.
- The Moorish Barracks were built on the slope of Barra Hill in 1874 to accommodate a regiment from Goa, Portuguese India.
- The Mandarin’s House is the 4,000 square metre house where the reformist Zheng Guanying (1842-1921) lived when he completed his masterpiece Shengshi Weiyan (Words of Warning in Times of Prosperity).
- The Leal Senado Building at Senado Square was the seat of Portuguese Macau’s government.
- Sam Kai Vui Kun, also known as the Kuan Tai Temple, honors Kuan Tai (Guan Yu), who was an important general during China’s Three Kingdoms period. He is considered an important person by both Buddhists and Taoists in Macau. The temple is located in front of Saint Dominic’s Market Complex, not far from Senado Square.
- The Na Tacha Temple is a Chinese folk religion temple built in 1888 and dedicated to the deity Na Tacha, the child god of war. A plague was ravaging Macau at the time, and it is possible that the creation of the temple was an attempt to stop the epidemic by appealing to higher forces. The ridge of the temple is adorned with protective ceramic animal figurines.
- Santa Casa da Misericórdia by Senado Square was first built in 1569 on the orders of the Bishop of Macau. It has been used as a medical clinic and several other welfare projects throughout the years, including being an orphanage and serving as a refuge for widows whose husbands had been lost at sea.
- The Old Protestant Cemetary was established by the British East India Company in 1821 to provide a burial place for protestant Christians in this predominantly Roman-Catholic and Chinese city.
- Built in the late 1800s, the two-story blue-bricked Lou Kau Mansion features a Chinese architectural style combined with Portuguese decorations. The Macau Chinese Orchestra regularly performs small concerts here.
- Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady originates from a small wooden chapel built here in the early 1600s. It was elevated to a cathedral in 1623, and was eventually rebuilt as a stone structure. This structure was largely destroyed by a typhoon in 1874 and was completely rebuilt in concrete in 1937.
- Other examples of churches located here are St Lawrence’s Church, St Joseph’s Seminary and Church, Saint Dominic’s Church, and St. Anthony’s Church. You can also visit the ruins of St. Paul’s in front of the Largo da Companhia de Jesus square.