MacauTripping Chapter 5 - In The Center of It All
Known for generically naming and trademarking everything (remember MEGACENTER™?), the braintrust at Sands China came up with another geolocational name - the delightful Sands Cotai Central™. Sands Cotai Central is a non-descript name for the amalgam of casino hotel towers east of Venetian, south of City of Dreams and west of Wynn Palace Cotai and MGM Cotai. The center.
Sands Cotai Central is essentially a milquetoast derivation, careful distillation and aesthetic magnification of everything blasé. about chain hotels. Take everything boring about any/every Sheraton, crank it up to 10. If there is any property on Cotai that will generate more regret amongst casino design nerds and those who appreciate the wonder and grandeur of palatial casino resorts, Sands Cotai Central is it. Sands Cotai Central makes soaked roll of Charmin look like a lost Picasso. Marcel Duchamp blushes as Mapplethorpe wipes.
The podium features an expansive casino, an extensive promenade of retail (Sands loves their 'shoppes') and four hotel towers - St. Regis, Holiday Inn/Conrad and two Sheraton branded hotel towers. The Sands Cotai Central casino is wrapped in Chinese themed decor that is dazzlingly unoriginal. This is where the mass market of conventioneer gamblers spend their HHonors and SPG points on boring rooms and banker bets.
Other notable parts of the Sands Cotai Central is a conservatory area modeled after the famed Bellagio Conservatory and the Grand Praca at MGM Macau. What those two iterations of the conservatory concept have in spades - gorgeous sculptural attractions festooned with stunning floral displays - the Sands Cotai Central Conservatory lacks. Sculptural attractions are replaced with one dimensional print outs of Dreamworks animation characters. The floral displays are plastic. A single geyser fountain bursts every so often, to the oohs and aahs of the guests in attendance. The whole affair is supremely tacky, but the kids and families milling about appear to be enjoying it. We make plans to meet up for an early morning Shrekfast the next day.
We headed up to Hunter's room at Conrad. He won a contest which vaulted one lucky booker of a basic room into an expansive suite. Hunter lovingly (?) called his two night home at the Conrad Macao the Beijing Hilton. I was a little skeptical of his description at first, thinking that he had been spoiled by two nights at Wynn Macau. After visting the room, I wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment of Conrad Macao. The paint-by-numbers design of the room features an array of furnishings plucked from the Hilton Asia design book and arranged with little thought about place, space or user experience. A proper design refresh of the hotel could yield some interesting results as the bones - particularly the bathrooms - are still good. It is apparent that these hotels were designed and built to expand hotel room capacity as quickly and cost effectively as possible. For folks looking for that Wow Macau experience, you can skip Sands Cotai Central altogether.
We ordered a dozen bottles of Macau Beer from room service and sat down to record Episode 8. Macau Beer is a slightly darker lager with a citrusy bite. It is very tasty and a great thirst quencher in the humid Macau heat.
After finishing up, we set out for to the Venetian to do some gambling. On the bridge that connected Sands Cotai Central to the Venetian Macao, we happened upon a display hyping the forthcoming Parisian property. Drunk John tried to ride the bike that was bolted to the floor. He failed. Twice. Creating a scene and cracking up all the other folks peeping the Parisian PR.
Earlier that evening, they held a lighting ceremony for the Eiffel Tower replica they've built.
From any point on the casino floor, all you can see at the Venetian Macao are baccarat tables fading off into the horizon in every direction. Unlike Wynn Macau, City of Dreams and Sands Cotai Central, the tables at Venetian Macao are mostly packed with players. Table minimums range from $300HKD on the rare low end to more prevalent $500HKD/$1000HKD tables. (Rule of thumb regarding currency: $7HKD = $1USD, $500HKD = roughly $70USD).
Venetian Macao casino carpet
The Venetian Macao casino is an Asian version of the Venetian Las Vegas, circa 2008. It is huge and looks lived in. What was once bright and effervescent seems dull, dim and a little dusty. There are a lot of people here playing, and house advantage being what it is, losing. This casino prints money, taking sections of it offline to do a little freshening up would adversely affect the bottom line. Being that this place is busy af, why bother swapping out the carpets and painting the pillars?
After some searching about, we ended up getting our Macau casino sea legs playing video baccarat. The three of us were seated on the outer rings of 100 or so video baccarat terminals that faced a group of tables where live dealers dealt cards on multiple games simultaneously. The turns of the cards were projected on a ginormous octagonal scoreboard similar to one you might find hanging from the roof of a hockey arena. The card values were updated in the UI of the betting kiosks as cards were turned over. The UI of the betting software was a struggle to use, not because of language, but instead interface. After a series of losses, we cashed out and searched for a proper baccarat table. John was adamant that he wanted to play baccarat where he could touch the cards. Unfortunately the only games that offered touch baccarat at Venetian were $1000HKD and up.
Eventually, we happen upon a craps table. John and Hunter throw their cash down and hop on the table. I watched for a minute as the dice were tossed... amidst a stream of unintelligible Chinese bet calling, the stickman says "no field five." I head off to the turn my tito into HKD and get more from an ATM. After turning in my ticket, I find an ATM which is being circled by a suspicious looking fellow looking at his phone. I decide to wait until he leaves before sticking my card in and keying in the pin. After waiting for 30 seconds the screen says "Transaction Failed, Could Not Make Connection. Take Advice." The advice arrived in the form or a receipt that said: "REJECTED."
Uh oh. Am I stuck in Macau on day three of a 10 day trip with no access to cash? Gulp. Hopefully this is just an ATM specific issue. I head back to the craps table and am met by John, they took a quick beating at the table and thought they lost me. We meet up and wander over to a video rapid Sic Bo machine (made by Aruze Gaming, owned by former Wynn associate Kazuo Okada.) Hunter, John and I settle in on the Sic Bo and Hunter takes to it like a pro. He starts laying bets all across the board - betting small, numbers, combinations, individual dice bets and more. John and I take quick beating. Hunter wins and catches a case of Sic Bo fever.
We got up and did another loop of the casino. John decides he's going to catch a cab back to Wynn Macau and bolts for the exit. Hunter and I decide to go to Fatburger.
After Fatburger, we wander through parts of The Grand Canal Shoppes then separate - he's heading towards the bridge that crosses to Sands Cotai Central and I've got designs on shooting night time photos of City of Dreams, Wynn Palace and MGM Cotai from the Venetian side of the street. He heads one way and I go the other. Good night Hunter.
I end up circling the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian for about an hour, trying to find a way out. The wayfinding here purposefully sends you in circles. 90 minutes later, I end up exactly where Hunter and I said goodbye previously. I head downstairs and cross the bridge to Sands Cotai Central and eventually back out into the humid Macau night.
One thing I didn't expect, when going outside into humidity from frigid air conditioning, condensation forms on glass surfaces - eyeglasses, interior and exterior camera lenses and mirror sensors inside of cameras. It takes a good 20 minutes of wiping and acclimation before the lenses can be used. I don't really have a solution for this, but I found that a slow acclimation worked best - standing in a doorway and raising the temperature/humidity gradually over the doorway threshold.
Anyways, I ended up farting around outside of the Holiday Inn/Conrad tower at Sands Cotai Central for a half hour acclimating my camera to the humidity. I walked north towards City of Dreams, just past St. Regis and looked East when I saw it.