For almost a century, Las Vegas was the world’s gambling capital. No other place came close to Sin City’s gaming offerings or revenues, but thanks to Macau, that is no longer the case.

The Chinese special administrative region’s gaming history is older than that of Vegas – and its industry now generates greater revenues than Nevada’s most famous city. This is the fascinating story of gambling in Macau.

The Portuguese Arrive

Archaeology indicates that humans have lived in the area that is now Macau for approximately 6000 years. The settlements remained small and, in some cases, temporary.

That began to change when Portuguese explorer Jorge Álvares arrived in 1513. The Portuguese first set up a trading post at Tamão (present-day Tuen Mun), Hong Kong. However, those traders were expelled in 1521.

Undeterred by naval clashes, the Portuguese eventually settled at an uninhabited spot on the peninsula in the Pearl River estuary. Formal trade relations were established with China in 1554, and in 1557, Portugal received a permanent lease for Macau.

Gambling Is Legalised

Macau’s indigenous inhabitants most likely indulged in the traditional gambling game of Fan Tan long before online gambling casino in NZ was legalised by the Portuguese colonial government. The move came after the colony lost its status as a major trading port, and the government had to find an alternative way to generate income.

Initially, legalised gambling was limited to traditional Chinese games, of which Fan Tan was the most popular. Before the end of that century, the government also introduced a licensing system which included the charging the venues a gambling rent.

Early Gambling Monopolies

In 1937, the Portuguese government of Macau granted a casino monopoly to the Tai Heng Company. However, it would take the granting of the monopoly to Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) in 1962 before the region’s gambling industry would see any significant changes.

The first major change was the introduction of western casino games such as Baccarat, Roulette, real money blackjack, and Poker. The second major change led to improved transport links between Macau and Hong Kong; a move that brought millions of players to the city’s casinos every year.

The Modern Era Begins

In 1999, control of Macau was transferred from Portugal to China. After more than 400 years of Portuguese rule, Macau became a special administrative region. In terms of the agreement between the two countries, the economic and political systems put in place by the Portuguese would be guaranteed for the next 50 years.

In 2001, STDM’s monopoly gambling license expired. The following year, the Macau government made the decision to end the monopoly, and it granted licenses, concessions, and sub-concessions to STDM subsidiary Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, as well as to Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment Group, the Melco-PBL partnership, and the MGM Mirage-Pansy Ho Chiu-king partnership.

Macau’s gambling industry since has expanded from casino games only, to also including lotteries, sports betting, and greyhound racing. Gambling tourism now contributes approximately 50% of the region’s economy. Macau’s gaming revenues officially overtook those of Vegas in 2007.