Hong Kong Day 9.2 - Gambling in Macau

10 October 2009

Thursday 8th October, part 2

A taxi took us from the bar across the bridge to Taipa, where several colossal casinos are being built. Recently completed is The Venetian - bigger than its counterpart in Las Vegas, this is the biggest casino in the world, and the fourth largest building by floor space.

Surely there can be no more profound a symbol of the irrationality and stupidity of human beings than these enormous, opulent buildings, funded entirely by the vast amounts of money people lose when they gamble. These monuments are physical oxymorons - telling people that this is a place where they can get rich, while the very existence of such grand buildings is testament to the reality that the only thing they’re good for is extracting large amounts of money from people.

The Venetian is a literally amazing building. We were expecting Disneyland-style tackiness, but clearly absolutely no expense has been spared in making the interior lavish and yet still somehow tasteful. Entering the lobby, you are greeted by the sight of a huge palace of marble and painted ceilings stretching far into the distance.

Walking down the corridor with its huge columns, you reach the casino itself which occupies an area of the ground floor which looked to me about the size of two to three football pitches, about half slot machines and roulette machines and so on, and the other half blackjack, craps tables etc.

In the centre of all this is a bar which although not cheap was fairly reasonably priced. We drank whisky in the hope that things would start to make some kind of sense.

Next to the bar are two curved escalators. They lead up to level 3 which is a huge shopping mall designed to look like Venice. It has canals and gondolas and bridges. It was pretty quiet up here as it was late, and the shops were shut. During the day visitors can take a trip along the canals with a singing gondolier, and marvel at the in-character street entertainers. I’m kind of glad we missed those - the place was surreal enough as it was.

Returning downstairs to the casino, we put a HK$20 note (about £2) into a slot machine and tried to work out what was going on. It didn’t make any sense to us. Lights flashed and things span. It printed out a token for HK$5 and that was it. We put that into a different machine which turned out to make exactly as much sense.

Having failed to see the attraction of the slot machines, we looked at the tables. Bored croupiers sat silently as they shifted cards and chips, and most of the punters were just as silent, looking at the green surface in front of them through cold dead eyes.

What a depressing sight. For all the variety of machines and games involved, there’s no skill involved here, so whatever you’re playing you’re just continually forking over cash and, presumably, occasionally getting some of it back. Maybe we were in fact lucky that our toe-dip with the slot machines didn’t give us any reward. I expect all the gamblers here had some initial luck once upon a time, and now they’re trapped, like drug addicts, forever hoping for the same rush as that first hit.

At the back of the casino, in a bar called the Bellini Lounge, games of a different nature were taking place, and far more interesting. On one side, men taking a break from the roulette tables, and on the other, women looking to take them for everything they had, or at least everything they had left. Each side manipulating the other, each side believing they’re the winner, but once again the house is the only winner in this hall of losers.

The gold diggers sat in a group around a table at the back, drunkenly dancing, waiting for victims. To my fairly sober eyes they were completely terrifying, some of them rather masculine, others made-up and surgically enhanced as if to remove all trace of humanity.

Pop music played too loud, too fast and badly mixed provided an uneasy soundtrack to the human zoo. At the bar, a drunk, 30-something buck-toothed man chatted to two women. Further along the bar, sitting with a man who was probably his father, was a chap in a T-shirt with something of a Noel Fielding look about him. He couldn’t take his eyes off the drunk and his two unwilling female companions. Jealousy, perhaps? Or was he, like us, merely a spectator?

The band returned to the stage to play some more cover songs. Was this a good or a bad gig for them? Is this what they aspired to be, musical wallpaper, passionlessly regurgitating Brick in the Wall and Stairway to Heaven?

Noel Fielding had disappeared, and the drunk’s lady companions had somehow resisted his charms, so the drunk was now sat alone at the bar. He waved at the gold-digger in the low cut black top and tight white shorts, and she immediately descended upon him as if he were a delicious field mouse.

The barman served up a cocktail and a shot each, and the drunken man then fumbled for a while as he struggled to find enough money to pay his bill. The vulture could see that a few drinks was all she could extract from this one, and so she rejoined her fellow fem-bots. Perhaps in an effort to convince her that what he lacked in money he made up for in charm, he ran to the front as the band started Smells Like Teen Spirit.

He appeared to be trying to get on stage, but made do with jumping around and making rockin’ hand gestures at the singer. Returning to his temporary friend at the witches’ table, neither she nor they were interested any more, and he disappeared behind the curtain back into the casino, to try his luck with some different machines.

With his disappearance, the cycle began anew. The Noel Fielding lookalike had returned, and was speaking to the airship Hindenbra, at a safe distance from her gravity-defying bust. His father hung around awkwardly in the background. Nearby stood the drunk’s first two companions, so maybe tonight could still be Noel’s lucky night after all. Meanwhile, a bald man was chatting up the vulture, just one more loser trying his luck against the odds.