Monday, June 23, 2008

All bets are off

I was in Las Vegas in 2001, at an excruciating sales conference. In my jaundiced view, not helped by the event I was attending nor by the ludicrous hotel we were staying in (“New York New York”), it was a profoundly depressing place, and even from the absurdly privileged vantage point of a high-rolling banker’s free suite at the top of the Bellagio, with a glass of Dom Perignon in my hand, it seemed as hollow as it looks. The worst aspect, and sadly this accounts for the majority of the revenue generated by Las Vegas, was the slot machines: people dressed in extremely casual, almost pyjama-level clothing, each handing over their dollars for a big bucket of dimes which they then proceeded to feed into the slot machines for hours on end, as if participating in a giant metaphor for futility.

Melbourne has a super-casino too, by the river, flanked by strange, huge, sculptural towers spouting gouts of flame every minutes or so; but inside it has exactly the same feel as anywhere in Las Vegas: an ersatz environment, entirely focused on parting fools with their money. Adam Smith could have been thinking of super-casinos, had they existed in the 18th century, when he said: "A lottery is a tax on all the fools in creation".

Macau's casinos, 40 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong, have now overtaken Las Vegas in terms of revenue. In Macau, the interesting thing is that the revenue streams are reversed: 80% of Macau's revenue comes from the tables. This is, not surprisingly, attributed to the fact that the Chinese like people to know how much they are spending; it's a face issue (see below under Maybach, Napoleon wrasse, and Louis Vuitton). No miserable solitude at the slots for them.

Now Macau has become a replica of Las Vegas (which is itself a poor, hotel theme park replica of all the interesting places in the world) it's even less likely I will ever go there again, even if you can get the best Portuguese egg tarts in the kingdom at Lord Stow's Bakery in Coloane.


Grande Poobah said...

Macau is a profoundly depressing place.

The Venetian is 25% larger than the one in Vegas and contains acres and acres of slot machines and tables. More bizarrely there's a also an indoor gondola ride (for that authentic Italian experience) and a massive food court under a fake blue sky so you don't even have to go outside to have the sensation of the outdoors.

Yuk yuk yuk.

however Cirque du Soleil are about to open up there so it's not all bad....

Grande Poobah said...

check this out

Claire said...

Mmmm, I loved those egg tarts too; at least, I loved the ones I ate there though I'm not sure they were from the same place. But I too hated Macau...a soulless place, the best thing about it - apart from the tarts, the company and a lovely massage - was the chopper out ;-)