Macau is a popular day trip option from Hong Kong. Originally a Portugese settlement, it’s an interesting place to experience a mix of histories and cultures. However, besides that, Macau is perhaps better known as the gambling mecca of Asia. And it is for this latter reason that we found ourselves on a ferry to Macau one day.
We head straight to The Venetian after disembarking from the boat. The casino looks exactly like its twin in Las Vegas… but with some glaring differences. For one, the casino floor is non-smoking (which I prefer) and non-alcoholic-drinks-serving (which I don’t prefer). There are no drunks or girls in tight minidresses strutting about. Whereas most people go to Vegas to have a rowdy good time, most people are in Macau to throw caution to the fortune gods. Gambling is the only business here and it’s a serious one.
And the game of choice? Baccarat.
We spend a while just taking it all in. This casino floor is the largest one in the world (and in fact, at the time of construction, this was the 2nd largest building in the world by floor area!). It stretches on in either direction as far as the eye can see: a glistening sea of plush reds and card tables and flashing screens.
“I dunno….” I’m pretty cautious when it comes to money. I don’t like to take risks with it. To me, gambling is an reckless and terrifying activity.
D and I approach gambling the same way we approach life. I’m cautious and generally risk-adverse, preferring to keep circumstances within my control – while D thrives on adrenaline and uncertainty. The bigger the risk, the more alive he feels. And indeed, the risks he took on early in his adult life paid off big time as they now allow us to travel the world.
“We can set a limit and not spend over that.”
We finally decide that we would play with 3000HKD (the equivalent of US $390) only. We can just consider this entertainment spending, right? Now, this is a major splurge for us, but a mere pittance compared to what others come here with. People are walking around with stashes of cash as thick as bricks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much cash flying around. And most tables start with a minimum bet of 500.
I take out 3000HKD with my Chase card (the cashier probably laughed at us) and we’re off to try our luck with three measly chips.
Baccarat is a simple game and doesn’t take much skill, if any at all, to play. In short, the banker and the player each get two cards and whoever’s card value added up is closest to the number 9 wins. All face cards have a value of 0, and if two cards add up to over 10, then the first digit is dropped. If the value is too low (let’s say you end up with a 2,) then one more card is allowed to be drawn.
We watch a couple of tables for a bit until we’re confident that we understand the rules of the game. Essentially, this is a game of player vs. banker, and any bystanders are allowed to bet on either one.
We watch a table where a skinny guy is just killing it, raking in the chips round after round. “If we had betted on him, we could have won thousands by now,” I mention after observing a few rounds.
“So place a bet,” D encourages. After a bit more hesitation, I finally place a 1000HKD chip on the table.
He didn’t win. And not the next one either.
In just two short rounds, we’re left with only one last chip.
D decides it’s his turn to salvage the situation and sits down at the table to play. He has much better luck and in another several rounds, he has turned that 1000 into 6000.
“Wow, you’ve doubled it! We should just go now,” I whisper.
“But… I’m on a winning streak. Let me keep on playing…”
And thus is the danger of gambling. The high of winning and the feeling of invincibility and the not knowing when to stop. And sure enough, in another few rounds, all the chips have mysteriously vanished.
Left with nothing, it was really time to get out of the casino.
“What do you want to do now? Wanna explore the town for a bit?” I ask.
“Not really… we don’t have any more money…”
Good point. So we walk around the rest of the casino, stroll along the canals, eat one of those famous pork chop sandwiches, and kill some more time sitting in a Starbucks. Finally, out of things to do, we decide to head back.
On our way out, we pass through the casino again. We drag our feet and stop at every other table to watch. Really we’re just dawdling because the loss has left a bad taste in our mouths and we’re not yet ready to admit defeat.
“You know… I think I can win back our money if I take out more to start with.” D says after a while.
“Should we try? I mean… we can just loose more too.” Taking out even more money to try to win back what we lost doesn’t sound like the brightest idea.
But the loss is really sitting poorly with us, so we finally decide to take out an additional 5000HKD. Including the 3000HKD we took out earlier, this will be a full US $1000. I pray that D knows what he’s doing, because yes, this loss will hurt.
With 5 more 1000HKD chips in hand, D sits down at a Baccarat table. I step away to use the bathroom and I walk back to the table with trepidation. Would he be up? Or would there be nothing left?
When I get back, he still has all his chips. But looses the next few hands in a row (I’m obviously not his lucky charm). I watch in horror as he is left with only one chip in his hand. He confidently places it on the table on player.
Oh my god, I thought, there goes our last chip. There goes $1000!! I can’t watch!
But I believe gambling is all about positive energy. I’ve seen really stressed players loose hand after hand. The bad energy just compounds. You’ve gotta keep calm and happy. And then, just maybe, the cards will be in your favor.
So I send D happy vibes. Squeeze his thigh and rub his back. I’m on your side.
Miraculously, we win this hand.
And the next one.
Deciding we’re not winning fast enough, D gets bold and doubles up on the next bet. And… It’s a winner!
This kind of up and down goes on for a while until finally with another bold double bet, we win again.
We now have 8000HKD in our hands.
“We broke even! Time to go!”
D knows better than arguing with me this time. So we happily leave the table, laughing giddily at all the near misses and ultimate victory.
“You realize you were playing US$250 hands, don’t you?” I say as we walk away.
“Oh. Huh. I didn’t. It’s kind of dangerous to gamble in a foreign currency.”
We walk out feeling like we came out on top, though we really just broke even. But this is really the best outcome you can ask for. So we board the tram to go back to the ferry terminal. We had a day of fun and occasional heart-pounding excitement at no cost. What more could we want?
“The next ferry is at 3 am,” the girl at the ticket counter tells us.
“What?! Three am?!”
“The ones before are all full. You could stand by and if someone doesn’t get on, you can take the seat.”
[Sidenote: if you take away anything at all from this, it’s this: if you know you’re heading back to Hong Kong that same night, reserve your return spot as soon as you get to Macau!!]
“Okay great! Where is the stand by line?”
“Over there,” she points behind us. We turn around and see what is a solid wall of people.
“That’s the stand by line?! Where’s the ferry boarding line?”
I look at the two lines. Both snake back and forth a few times until they disappear around a corner. There are just as many people in either line.
We look at the clock. It’s not even yet 10 pm. What do we do?!
D and I look at each other.
“I guess back to the casino we go.”
And so, we get back on the tram and go back to the Venetian.
After another few hours killing time in the casino, we managed to end up with a total winnings of 3000HKD or $390US! And the ironic part? After hours of Baccarat, we only manage to break even, but won after only 30 seconds of War… figures.
How do you feel about gambling? What were your biggest wins or losses?