When I grow up I want to own a casino in Macau. Not – I hasten to add – because of their great beauty or contribution to the greater good of mankind. Hell, no! The Grand Lisboa is quite possibly one of the five ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen, and replicating a random selection of Venice’s best-known landmarks in the form of the Venetian is just ridiculous. That, however, is the nature of the casino beast; to be more crass, more bright and more loud in the hope of dragging in punters.
I quite like playing a little Blackjack once in a while. When I do, it’s always with a very strictly controlled stake, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I was in Macau on Sunday, for a wine tasting to be held at the Suncity Karaoke bar in the evening. I’d never been to Macau, so my Hong Kong hosts set up a day of sight-seeing, which obviously included a visit to a casino. First stop was the Venetian, where I was quite impressed that my allotted stake lasted more than an hour, until five seconds before I had to meet the rest of the group for lunch.
After a very enjoyable meal at a Portuguese restaurant we decamped to the Sands. It was here that I came to my casino-ownership conclusion. It has to be said that my performance at the Venetian’s blackjack tables don’t necessarily qualify me as a pro-player, but what I saw someone do at the Sands defied any logical sense of risk. With the dealer holding a 7, the player on 13 doubled. There’s nothing wrong with doubling if you’re holding 10 or 11 against the dealer’s 3 – the odds are working in your favour. But this player was on a hiding to nothing. Best of all, from the casino’s perspective, is that he was playing on a HK$300 table (US$38.46), with a substantial pile of chips at risk.
The money I saw – just on the standard tables – was mind-boggling. I didn’t get to the reserved areas, or the yet more private rooms for the seriously high-rollers. I was reliably told of the chairman of a large company in China who pitches up in Macau with HK$20 million!
Baccarat is one of the most popular games in Macau. It’s a game that’s supposed to win the casino about 2.85% of the amount wagered (the hold rate). But Wynn casino has baffled the world with nine straight quarters of above average hold rate. A recently reported number was 3.6%, which has pretty substantial implications for the operation’s profitability.
I’ve never played baccarat, so don’t have a sense of the game’s basic risk management, but if there’s more than a fair sprinkling of players like the ‘Mr Thirteen’ that I watched playing Blackjack, then part of Wynn’s elevated hold rate can be explained.
For all the fun and excitement to be had playing the occasional bit of Blackjack, the reality is that the money gets made on the dealer’s side of the table, not mine. No casino is going to pay for a fake Doge’s palace from my losses. Mr Thirteen and his compatriots are a different story altogether.