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Macau: Las Vegas of the East

This proved to be right, Macau is the Las Vegas of the East. Each day there are thousands of visitors from Hong Kong or China making trips to Macau, some going on a daily basis. Over 18 million visitors were received by Macau last year, of which nearly two-thirds were from China. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Macau has surged since 2002 when China began to loosen the traveling restrictions on its people to visit the two special administrative regions (SAR) - Hong Kong and Macau.

"The relaxation of China's traveling policy helps to boost tourist arrivals in Macau," said Macau Tourism Board director Joao Manuel Costa Antunes in an interview with StarBiz.

People from 50 Chinese cities are permitted to travel to Hong Kong and Macau.

A middle-aged passenger was telling her friend she had switched to another casino that was offering patrons a free meal and low hotel room rate in addition to shuttle bus service and free vouchers. "It is worth going there. You could at least enjoy free lunch or dinner even though you may not need the hotel room," the woman explained. Each day there are thousands of visitors like this lady and her friends who are making trips to Macau.

Aside from the good food and centuries-old historical sites, casinos are no doubt the big magnet for tourist to this former Portuguese colony that borders southern China's Guangdong province and a strait across from Hong Kong.

21 casinos operating around the clock all over Macau offering baccarat, roulette the Chinese games of fan tan and pai kao (dominos), slot machines and more - you name it, they have it.

For 120 years the gaming industry has been rooted in Macau, it is like a paradise for quick bucks. Joao Manuel Costa Antunes said, "There are families who have worked in the casinos for seven generations," But the boom was never this strong before for the 100-years-old industry.

The gross revenue of casinos went up 15% year-on-year to US$1.6 Billion, according to Macau's Finance Service Bureau. Gaming revenue has more than doubled in the past four years. It soared to US$5.6 Billion last year. Casinos accounted for 97% of it.

Macau is now evolving fast into the world's biggest resort city, whose size is only one-tenth of Kuala Lumpur's. People are already comparing Macau with the casinos of Las Vegas, full of glitz and luxuries.

Las Vegas casino operators like Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage are now pouring billions into Macau. Nonetheless, this would not have happened without the government's bold decision to liberalize its casino industry.