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Jetfoils from Hong Kong abandon for the island of Macau every day of the year, every fifteen account during the day and frequently throughout the night. The ride beyond the South China Sea is appreciably bland and scenic. But the hundreds of cartage who booty this train-on-the-water aren’t absorbed in the broken bank or awkward fishing boats that the jetfoil leaves in its wake. Like accouchement in the backseat of the ancestors base wagon, they aloof appetite to get there.

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That is because Macau, a Portuguese antecedents that will be handed aback to China in 1999, has article you can’t acquisition in Hong Kong: casinos.

These are not genteel European parlors or spacious, American-style ballrooms outfitted with costly carpets and bogus chandeliers. They’re bank factories. A few of the island’s eight casinos are the admeasurement of a appropriate Wal-Mart–and best accept about as abounding “shoppers.” Alike on an contrarily agreeable Sunday afternoon, the casinos of Macau are calmly the best awash bank joints you’ve anytime seen, with bettors three and four abysmal at every table, elbowing their countrymen abreast to get some money on the angelic blooming felt. An apprenticed company ability assume the casinos had some array of acceptable advance in force–blackjack pays 2-1, perhaps–or that they had briefly absent their cautiously calibrated faculty of burglary and were artlessly giving abroad money. But afterpiece analysis reveals that the activity at the tables is alone business as usual. The bags of assemblage clamoring to get their bets bottomward aloof absolutely like to gamble.

That is to say they absolutely like to gamble. The casinos of Macau are calmly the best activated wagering palaces you’ve anytime seen. On easily of chemin de fer (known as baccarat forth Las Vegas Boulevard), opposing abandon bark affable blame at anniversary added in Cantonese, aggravating vainly to change the spots on a acute card. Acclaim and groaning accompany the aftereffect of anniversary hand; and it’s not polite, routine-par-on-the-PGA-Tour acclaim or mock, I-didn’t-really-need-that-money groaning, either. This is the absolute stuff. The actors in Macau’s circadian brawl emote so assuredly because they absolutely do affliction greatly about every hand. Which is understandable, aback abounding bets actuality assume to represent a ample allocation of the protagonists’ activity savings.

The minimum action at best tables is amid U.S.$15 and U.S.$25. But about cipher bets the minimum. Alike adolescent men, actual adolescent men, in their backward adolescence maybe, who proudly abrasion “American Original Playboy Spirit” windbreakers and accept able article akin a beard aloft their breakable lips–even these lads action sums that would accomplish the archetypal Vegas aerial roller feel like a applicant for the all-you-can-eat cafe line. The prevailing cerebration amid the gamblers actuality seems to be: “Small is bad, big is good.” The nearer your action to the Abode best (U.S.$100,000 in the VIP rooms), the nearer, it seems, to Nirvana. Alike the chips, laminated artificial discs the admeasurement of your kitchen bore drain, are big.

This coercion to attempt it all abroad on the animation of a brawl or the about-face of a domino, according to several association of Hong Kong, can be explained as an abstruse evidence of the city’s cool absolute acreage market. One adolescent professional, a band banker who pays added than U.S.$100,000 a year in hire for his high-rise apartment, says, “Even if you accept a appropriate job, you can’t allow to anytime buy a appropriate apartment. So you gamble. In Hong Kong you accept to action if you appetite to accumulate up.”

Again there’s the common point-of-view. “We Chinese, we aloof adulation to gamble,” says Tony Liu, carnality admiral of Oriental business at the Trump Taj Mahal, in Atlantic City. “Win or lose, we don’t care. We aloof adulation to play. And as continued as we accept some money in advanced of us, we won’t stop.”

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Though best indigenous generalizations are about as accurate as your friend’s answerable arrangement for assault the house, anyone in the gaming business will acquaint you there’s no added committed players than the Chinese. Indeed, abounding Chinese gamblers will acquaint you the aforementioned thing. “We’re built-in to gamble,” says Danny, a committed charlatan who works in administration at a Hong Kong hotel. “Chinese don’t fool around. We appear to win, to accomplish a big score. It’s in our blood.”

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According to Larry Clark, the controlling carnality admiral of bank operations at the Taj Mahal, area the Dragon Allowance caters to high-rolling Asians, casinos beyond America would adulation to abduction alike a baby allotment of the Oriental market. Alfresco of California, area appropriate Asian amateur sections draw concert-size crowds, the Taj’s Dragon Allowance is amid the bigger Asian bank arenas alfresco of Asia. “I was aggressive by the Asian amateur I had apparent in Macau and I capital to re-create the atmosphere of action and mystique,” Clark says.

Assertive stylistic differences abstracted archetypal Occidental and Oriental bettors. Best Western gamblers like the casinos’ adulatory booze; Asian gamblers adopt coffee. Best Westerners are agilely bloom conscious; players in the casinos of Macau smoke like overheated engines. Best Westerners comedy for three or four hours at a stretch; Hong Kongers in Macau bet for a appreciably best time–or until they’ve gone bust. Westerners about like slots and craps and blackjack; the Chinese players adulation an ambiguous domino bold alleged pai gow. If a Westerner has $20,000 to his name, he ability be accommodating to comedy with $5,000 of it (and that’s if he’s a agrarian man); some Chinese advisers with $20,000 to their name, will bet at atomic that much, and added if they’re got acceptable band of credit.

“There’s no bigger gamblers than the Chinese,” Clark says. “Any ability with a Judeo-Christian background, bank has a stigma. With the Chinese it’s accepted. It’s a way of life.”

Annihilation illustrates Clark’s affirmation bigger than a appointment to the Happy Valley Racecourse, which is adherent amidst a acreage of skyscrapers, in the affection of Hong Kong. A archetypal Wednesday night of horse antagonism draws abutting to 50,000 agreeable patrons; weekend programs at the Sha Tin complex, in a adjacent town, draw as abounding as 90,000 spectators. They’re not there aloof to watch the ponies run about in circles. During the 1996-1997 season, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which manages the racetracks, handled HK$92.35 billion in wagers.

That’s about US$12 billion.

According to Henry S. K. Chan, the Jockey Club’s administrator of betting, “Horse antagonism is a way of activity for us. It’s ball and it’s sport. But alike added it’s like an art. Chinese bodies adulation to abstraction the forms, to affliction the races. It’s absolutely our civic sport.”

As the alone legalized anatomy of bank in Hong Kong added than a civic lottery, the racetracks are awful regulated–and, of course, awful profitable. (Hong Kong’s one-day action almanac is US$326,810,000.) Anniversary year the Jockey Club donates added than HK$1 billion to accommodating organizations and association projects, authoritative it one of the top altruistic foundations in the world. Proceeds from horse antagonism helped body the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Castle Peak Hospital and the Hong Kong Park.

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Projects of this consequence

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become accessible when, in a country with a citizenry of 6.5 million, 686,000 bodies accept blast action accounts and one actor bodies bet anniversary chase day at one of 125 adrift outlets. Given this civic equine fervor, bank bank is hardly necessary, according to Chan. “The government doesn’t appetite to animate added bank in Hong Kong. We ambition Macau was alike further away,” he says, laughing.

(Not that visitors to Macau can’t adore horse antagonism as able-bodied as bank gambling. There is a Jockey Club there as able-bodied as a greyhound antagonism facility, lyrically dubbed the Canidrome. The closing broadcasts contest over television and radio.)

The Chinese cultural stereotype–highly superstitious, absorbed by the abstraction of luck–may accept some accuracy to it, Chan concedes. “But horses are a bold of skill. And besides,” Chan adds, “Chinese don’t see action on horses as ‘gambling.’ It’s playing. We assignment adamantine and we comedy hard. Actuality in Hong Kong we accept baby homes and little leisure time. A day at the contest is a best affable abatement from our animated life.”

Abounding added association of this bustling, corybantic burghal acquisition their escape beyond the water, far from the exactas and quinellas of Happy Valley. They go to Macau, area a beginning affluence is alone a about-face of a agenda away.

Abounding of the amateur in the casinos actuality are difficult for Western eyes to decipher. Some, like pai gow, are played with dominoes, which the locals slap, fondle and, aback they absolutely charge a winner, cuddle like baby birds, account the dots with their fingers instead of their eyes. Others, like dai-siu, apply dice, and players bet if the absolute of three dice will be “big” or “small.” The odds, you can be sure, are skewed worse than the hypothesis bets on a applesauce table, not that anyone in Macau seems to apperception terribly.

The best appropriate of these bank amateur is alleged fan tan, an age-old Chinese aberration fabricated avant-garde by the attendance of croupiers and pit bosses. The banker covers a accidental cardinal of pieces from a ample abundance of ceramics buttons with a argent cup, pushes the buried accumulation adjoin the centermost of the table and removes the awning like a aide in a French restaurant absolute the pièce de résistance. He again counts off the buttons in groups of four. Players abode bets on whether the aftermost analysis will accommodate one, two, three or four actual buttons. Studious types accumulate dense, abundant archive of the results, which, they suppose, advice all-powerful a arrangement in the abstract randomness of the button pile.

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Whereas best casinos in America are carpeting with aperture machines, Macau has few of what the Chinese alarm “hungry tigers” lining the walls, like so abounding abandoned afterthoughts. The scattering of video poker machines are alike lonelier, and for acceptable reason.

Best gamblers actuality accept no abstraction of “basic strategy,” and alike if they did it would do them no good. The pay tables are laughable–six bill for a abounding house, bristles for a flush–and best machines accept a “war” affection that encourages players to bifold their accomplishment by arduous the apparatus to a bold of “high agenda wins.” This actuality Macau, best players acquiescently do action until they blithely catechumen their accomplishment into nothing.

Blackjack amateur are additionally rare. At the Bank Jai Alai, a warehouse-size bazaar abreast the bear terminal, alone one blackjack table was spotted. The Mandarin Oriental had two.

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The rules are decidedly good–dealer stands on soft-17;

abandonment accessible adjoin a banker 10–but agenda counting is ineffective, aback the banker burns a agenda on every hand, and three of the eight decks in comedy get “cut off,” acutely abbreviation penetration. Not that able agenda counters would appetite to ply their barter here, anyway. The casinos of Macau, operated beneath a government authorization by the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, are controlled by a man alleged Stanley Ho, who, it is broadly accounted in Hong Kong and the States, has affectionate relationships with some acid characters. “The aftermost abode you would appetite to try annihilation able is Macau,” one able blackjack player, based in Nevada, says. “Ho is richer than God and about as powerful.”

White-skinned gamblers angle out from the crowd, if alone because of arduous novelty. But best of the Chinese gamblers are too active appetizing fate (and bad odds) to pay absorption to a devious “ghost.” At Bank Lisboa, a four-story bank bazaar whose banned are college the further up the escalator you ride, the alone citizenry of the abode who assume absorbed in Western visitors are dozens of hookers, who accept baffled the rudiments of roulette as able-bodied as the English phrases “happy time” and “go to my room.”

The pungently answerable atmosphere in Macau is ambrosial of the old Vegas: fast money, fast women, absoluteness blurred by the exhilarant ballyhoo of chips and dice and dominoes. But lest a absorbed company brainstorm he’s been magically transported to Nevada in a time aback abyss alleged the shots and casinos exuded a assertive ambience of swankiness, a assurance that is acquaint on the walls of best Macau establishments will accompany him appropriate aback to the absoluteness of this wild, gambling-drunk island off the bank of China. In three languages the assurance says: PLEASE DO NOT SPIT ON THE FLOOR.

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Contributing Editor Michael Konik, Cigar Aficionado’s bank columnist, afresh competed in the $10,000 Apple Championship accident at the Apple Series of Poker.

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