Macau

Thursday 7th June – the day after going to Happy Valley races – and I had a trip organised with work to Macau. I was due to be there for the Friday to deliver a presentation to some customers, but this section has been cancelled, and my presentation part is no longer required, but I’m already booked to go and have a hotel room arranged. This is definitely good news as I wasn’t feeling particularly wonderful and the prospect of having to deliver a presentation to non-native English speakers wasn’t top of my list of priorities.

The trip to Macau lasts about an hour, and you have to pass through passport control. The queues on the Hong Kong side are pretty short, although it took me a little longer as I’d forgotten to bring the copy of my arrival form with me. The girl behind the desk didn’t look very impressed, but as the ferry to Macau was due to leave in a few minutes she couldn’t do very much about it, gave me a dirty look, and stamped my passport and pointed me in the direction of the departure area.

I was shown round some of the island by a colleague who works most days at Macau, so he’s got rooms booked at a hotel and has arranged for dinner in the restaurant at the top of the Macau Tower. Macau was a Portuguese colony prior to being handed back to China in much the same way that the UK handed Hong Kong back. However historically, Macau was never the same commercial/financial centre that Hong Kong was. Macau is though reinventing itself as a haven for gambling, and with the amount of building work in evidence it’s changing pretty constantly. Apparently, the gambling turnover in Macau last year was greater than Las Vegas, with most of it being money from the Chinese mainland.

Like Las Vegas, most hotels are actually there for the casinos, so as a result my hotel room was reasonably priced for a lot of quality. I noted on entering that my hotel room was bigger than the ‘apartment’ I was staying in in Hong Kong… Dinner in the tower that night was interesting. The restaurant at the top of the tower slowly rotates through 360 degrees so you get a view of whole of Macau as you eat. My colleague, Stanley, also mentioned that during the day, if you eat lunch, you sometimes see people flying past the windows as above they have a bungy jump system.

After dinner it was suggested that we should go to a casino – which sounded good to me. I normally play blackjack in casinos as it’s pretty easy to pick up, and the strategy isn’t very complex either. It seems that the Chinese prefer to bet on dice (not craps as I’ve seen in other casinos), and for cards bacarrat is the main attraction. I’ve never played bacarrat before, but Stanley seems keen that I give it a go. As it turned out, although we were in the casino, it was for me to spend my money whilst Stanley watched on offering encouragement, and kind of explaining what was going on.

Bacarrat is weird. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of strategy or indeed any skill involved in it. You can bet on one of two hands, and which ever hand adds up closest to 9 is the winner. Depending on the score of the initial cards dealt there might be more cards dealt out to each hand. The hands are marked as either Player or Banker; if you back the Player and that hand wins, you double your stake, if you back the Banker and that hand wins you double your stake minus 5% of tip to the dealer/house. Loads of people can choose to play, and whoever places the biggest stake for either hand gets to turn the cards over. This actually makes no difference to the outcome of the game though, so if you’re playing on your own – as I was for a large part – you end up having to turn over both Banker and Player cards. It just feels like a lot of card turning with a bit of money being lost, and a bit being won – but no real control.

When the Chinese play and are turning the cards, they bend them extravagantly, apparently to ensure they can’t be re-used. My rather rubbish flipping the cards over must have had the Chinese somewhat bemused wondering why I wasn’t virtually destroying the cards in the process. They also take their time with turning the cards, trying to add to the drama – which again, I don’t really understand as it’s not exactly possible to bluff in bacarrat… just turn the cards over and then do a quick bit addition. Despite not having a clue what I was doing, and feeling as though each round was coming faster and faster as the evening progressed I finished HK$120 or so up for the night. Coupled with my rubbish horse gambling the night before I’m a massive HK$20 ahead (or £1.30 in UK money). Not the greatest return on investment ever…

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