And So Castles Made of Sand(s Macao)
Excuse me, while I kiss the Hendrix quotes yet again, "Spanish Castle Magic" from Axis: Bold As Love LP.
Its very far away
It takes about a half and a day to get there If we travel by my uh, dragon-fly
No its not in spain
But all the same you know, its a groovy name
And the winds just right. Hey !
Hang on my darling
Hang on if you wanna go
Here its a really groovy place
Its uh, just a little bit of uh, said uh, spanish castle magic.
The clouds are really low
And they overflow with cotton candy
And battle grounds red and brown
But its all in your mind
Dont think your time on bad things
Just float your little mind around
Look out ! ow !
The Spanish Castle Hendrix is referring to isn't a mystical castle in Spain ("no it's not in Spain...") but in fact is an old dance hall, The Spanish Castle Ballroom which presented the best live music in the Seattle-Tacoma area for thirty-something years from its opening in 1931 until its demolition in 1968. The Spanish Castle was built in between Seattle and Tacoma so the government of both cities wouldn't stick their noses into the clubs business. The Spanish Castle, much like the Sands' sister property the Venetian, was modeled after a European locale, right down the stucco exterior and a little neon goodies thrown into the mix. The Spanish Castle evolved over time from a big band dance hall to a teen sock-hop location to acid rock concerts of the sixties. Eventually, like every building whose primary usage is entertainment, the times steamrolled past the Spanish Castle and it was demolished in April 1968.
The Sands Macao, is a semi-hastily constructed large square box with two cylindrical towers to each side and a brand new hotel tower poking out the back. Many gaming industry analysts questioned the Sands Macao's opening with few restaurants and small VIP only hotel operation. The answer is simple. If there is no demand for overnight accommodations in Macau, why invest in them. The average visitor to Macau is a multiple day tripper. They day trip multiple times per year - approximately 50-70 times per year. In this way, Macau is more like Atlantic City than Las Vegas, where grannies ride into AC on the bus junket at 10am, hit the slots and craps tables, then head home at 8pm. For this reason alone, Atlantic City has yet to become a true destination resort with stellar dining, five star hotel offerings, kick ass pools, evening show spectaculars and other non-gaming revenue generators.
Macau currently has few if any non-gaming entertainment options, very limited culinary excursions and no pools of historic dimensions or vibe. No Rehab, Bare, Moorea Beach or overpriced cabana action here. The Sands Macao, with (currently) limited hotel offerings wastes no time in making its primary application known : gambling.
Oh, how it gambles. The Sands Macao's massive casino floor features about 500 table games (holy crap!) most of which are baccarat and to a lesser degree Sic Bo. Table minimums range from HK$50 for Sic Bo to HK$100-200 for Baccarat. The densely packed casino floor features a few rows of blackjack, Caribbean Stud, Roulette and a handful of other games, most of whose tables were empty. The row of Caribbean Stud games were all empty and the dealers looked as if they had been standing there doing nothing for about five hours. The second floor of the casino, which is about 1/3 of the size of the main floor is about 25% slot machines, and the rest table games... all without dealers.
It's the main floor of the casino where all the action happens. The casino is about the size of 1 1/2 football fields (probably more) running lenthwise north to south. The east side of the casino has the cage, currency exchange and a noodle house. The west side has a bar with a live music stage behind it. The band was pretty good, their dreadlocked bass player whooped up later era Santana hit "Smooth" and their female singer bumped her badonkadonk in time with the clunk of the cowbell. They were a pretty darn good cover band, Macanese or not. It should be noted that there is no "lounge seating" like what you might find in Vegas (i'm thinking the joint in Ballys' casino). If you're watching this show, you're in the casino. You can only escape the casino to eat or cash out. To the south of the bar were escalators that headed to the aforementioned second casino level (floor three).
On the night I was there, two chunks of the southern part of the main casino were cordoned off for carpet replacement. Because of this, most of the players were stuffed into tables near that thing-a-ma-jig in the middle of the casino floor. As a result, traffic flow in the 'pedestrian beltway' around the casino floor came to a complete stand still. I had spotted a HK$50 Sic Bo table just to the west of the thing-a-ma-jig but due to the throng of people and the tables having no pedestrian clearance between them, the only way I was going to get there was by going the long way around. Dragola majora.
I made my way around the casino to the Sic Bo table of my desire. I check changed my HK$500 and placed a $50 on Big. The dealer hit the dice thumper, pulled off the lid - whamo its BIG! He paid me and I placed another BIG bet - thump thump thump - BIG! One more time... thump thump thump - BIG! And yet again - thump thump thump - BIG! I took my HK$200 profit, pocketed a HK$50 chip for my collection and headed to the cage to cash the rest out. In Macau, they call the casino cashier "Cage" thats what the signs say. Interesting FWIW.
I guess if you're an investor in the Las Vegas Sands Corporation (owners of the Sands Macao) you're probably psyched about the density of people gambling at the Sands and the table minimums. All of which is particularly notable because this joint does not have a hotel. What the Sands Macao does have is good, yet crowded vibes (the place was exciting!) and a great great great location - a 10 minute walk to the Ferry Terminal. If you're a day tripper and want to gamble Vegas style as soon as you hit the ground in Macau, the Sands Macau is your fastest choice. I should probably disclose that I am not a stockholder of any gaming company, having a financial stake in any of these joints would be a conflict of my interest as a non-partisan observationist. The only money I make from these joints is as a casino patron, certainly not as often as I like.
I decided that I had enough of the crowds and was ready to head back to Wynn for some chow and a little peace and quiet. I took the elevator down to the ground floor to find a full scale model of the Venetian Macao and the Pearl casino, a small, non-smoking gambling hall right by the front entrance. Despite wanting to enquire about taking some prohibited photography of the Venetian model, I decided to let it go and bounced outta there.
Rather than take a cab back to Wynn or hoof it in the night time humidity yet again, I walked back to the Ferry terminal and hopped on the Wynn shuttle to the back door of the hotel. On the way back to my room I picked up some schwag at the Wynn Signature Shop including some lucky red Wynn Macau coffee mugs (mmmmm coffeeee) some postcards for friends and family and some gifts for my wife. The staff, much like at The Drugstore at Wynn Las Vegas, we're incredibly helpful in helping me pick out sizes and corral all the crap I wanted to purchase behind the register. It's been a long day... I headed back up to the room, ordered some room service and hit the sack.
I'm still left with some questions about the Sands Macao. Much like Hendrix' Spanish Castle, I wonder what the fate of the hastily constructed Sands Macao will be. With limited offerings other than gambling, will the Venetian and other Cotai properties cannibalize Sands Macao's customer base. The addition of a hotel tower may encourage a degree of player loyalty and keep them on property, but as Macau transforms itself from a day trippers paradise to a multi-day destination, can the Sands Macao keep up with itself. Other than the casino having a Vegas-style layout and synergy of large crowd energy, this joint isn't too much different than the Grand Waldo or even the old Klondike in Vegas. It's a gambling hall, that's it. Whether or not it will rock Macau for 60 years is questionable, at least until there's something else to do other than fight for a place at a baccarat table.