Coolest international gambling destinations

As a connoisseur of risk, I have seen my fair share of glory and agony within the walls of lady luck. In Latin America, the casinos feel seedy and desperate, and a shower always seems to be good idea after leaving these smoky dens. Singapore casinos feel simple and clean, as though an army of robots lurks just beyond the curtain, meticulously tending to the unseen cogs that keep the experience running. Macau on an off day feels like the world just ended. Gigantic empty rooms full of smiling Macanese croupiers all enthusiastically welcome you to tables with delicate waves of upturned hands. It is like a creepy dream.

Vegas reminds me of the imitation crab in a California roll. You may know its fake, but you don’t care because it is delicious. Likewise, the Vegas pyramid, faux Eiffel Tower, and mini New York skyline are obviously not real, but the kitschy feel speaks to the synthetic appeal of the modern American dream. In Europe, the casinos are ornate old world establishments where you will feel like you forgot your velvet smoking jacket, even if you don’t own one.

So where are some of the coolest international places to thrown down on black and let it ride?

Macau, Macau
Macau was the first and last European foray into Chinese colonization. Portugal controlled the small administrative district until 1999 when they handed it back over to China. A gambling center since the mid-nineteenth century, it was once known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient.” Today, Macau is an autonomous region of China and is considered one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The one time fishing village on the pearl delta is China’s ambitious version of Las Vegas – a sprawling complex of mega-casinos, shopping malls, and theme parks. In the Fisherman’s Wharf area, a replica of a crashed black hawk helicopter with American soldiers clutching assault rifles sits next to some faux Middle Eastern buildings (above). It is one of the stranger pop culture nods I have found in a world with no shortage for bad taste.

Macau has surpassed its stateside desert brethren in overall gaming revenues – raking in four times the revenue of Las Vegas. Macau boasts many familiar gambling franchises: Wynn, The Venetian, and MGM Grand. All are pager friendly. Also, the Casino Lisboa is an Asian classic that has been dealing hands in Macau for forty years. Macau is just an hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong.

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Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
One of the most prosperous countries in the world, Singapore is just beginning to stretch its gambling legs. With the construction of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, Singapore has begun capitalizing on its unique position in Southeast Asia and the rising economic standards in this region. While the Marina Bay Sands looks like something a tsunami with a sense of humor would create, it has opened to resounding success and aesthetical complaints have been minimal. The three 55-story buildings serve as pillars for a “sky park” shaped like a boat. The building is extremely unique looking, and the views from the rooftop pool are exceptional. What do you think of the design (above) of the Marina Bay Sands?

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Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco
Monte Carlo is located in Monaco – a playground for the mega-rich nestled between the French and Italian rivieras. Pearl white yachts sway in the calm Mediterranean harbor, and the bourgeois gamble away first world fortunes on carefree whims. Opened in 1863, the Monte Carlo Casino is as old school as it gets. Men are required to wear coats and ties. Women dress formal. This is the type of place where you feel like James Bond…until you lose all of your money and shamefully walk back to your hotel.

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Baden-Baden Casino, Germany
The Black Forest of southern Germany is an unlikely place for world class gambling, but in the old bath town of Baden-Baden, gamblers wager euros inside the swank Casino Baden-Baden. The casino has a an aristocratic French air about it that is almost excessively opulent. Red carpets, crystal chandeliers, and gold moldings contribute to make this one of the most attractive casinos on the planet. Walking through the royal halls makes one feel like a working class Hapsburg. The town of Baden Baden is known for its natural baths that have been in use since Roman times. It is a really stunning city, and the Baden-Baden Casino fails to disappoint.

flickr images via justindelaney, william cho, myhsu, and m4tik

Russia plans Las Vegas clone in Siberia

Siberia Las Vegas Siberia is known for many things. Long train rides that cover almost 6000 miles, massive tigers that hunt wild boar in snowy enclaves, and a lake whose depths reach deeper than any other lake in the world. Oh and cold. Wintry, unrelenting, freezing cold weather drapes Siberia in snow and below freezing temperatures for roughly half of the year. It is a place so remote and foreboding that if you look up “Siberian” on dictionary.com, you will be greeted with this definition:

“any undesirable or isolated locale, job, etc., to which one is assigned as punishment, a mark of disfavor, or the like.”

Despite this damning etymological association, Russia plans to build its version of Las Vegas in the wintry depths of Siberia. This Las Vegas East has been given the moniker “Siberian Coin,” which sounds more like a local band from Moscow than a mecca of gambling. The Altai region of Siberia will host the ambitious project located near the boarder of Kazakhstan and China. Russian developers have budgeted about $1 billion for the cause which includes the construction of 15 casinos and 30 hotels. According to Businessweek, outside experts expect the project costs to total $50 billion.So why Siberia? Several years ago, “President” Vladimir Putin banned casinos in all major Russian cities, restricting gambling to the far flung reaches of the Russian Federation. Overnight, successful Moscow gaming parlors shuttered their doors forever, and it is estimated that the edict cost Russia about half a million jobs. So far, casinos have been built in three faraway locations: Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, Azov City, and Primorsky in the Far East. None have been very successful. While hopes for the “Siberian Coin” are high, its fate may follow a familiar trend due to the sheer remoteness of its geographical location. Siberia is known for many things, but it will be a long uphill battle before gambling is added to that list of associations.

Five gambling destinations you didn’t know existed

To most people, gambling probably only reminds them of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But winning (and losing) at the slots and tables is a global phenomenon. Casinos are found all around the world, and with a couple of exceptions, almost every country in the world welcomes your money with open arms.

We’ve compiled five countries where gambling is pretty popular – but most importantly, these are countries where you’d probably not expect gaming to be popular.

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The Netherlands

Prostitution and soft drugs are well known vices in the Netherlands, but the country is also home to thirteen casinos. Dutch casinos are operated by the government – hence the name, Holland Casinos. You’ll find a Holland Casino in most major Dutch cities, as well as one right inside Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Dealers are all bilingual, and will be happy to separate you from your money in Dutch or English.

Locations, table descriptions and more can be found at Hollandcasino.nl. Do keep in mind that with the exception of the airport location, all properties have a relatively strict dresscode and ID is required to enter.

Australia

Casinos are located all over Australia – and revenue from tables contributes billions a year to the government. Many properties offer resort style gaming, along with hotel, dining and entertainment options. Australia has 22 million residents – and almost 450 casinos. Some properties (like the Crown Entertainment Complex) offer over 5000 slot machines and 500 different table games.

South Africa

Gambling was banned in South Africa until 1996, creating a massive network of illegal casinos. When gaming was legalized, there were over 2000 illegal gaming operations running in the country. Casinos can now be found in all major cities in South Africa, and gamers spent over 2 billion dollars on the various legal games.

Argentina

Nowhere in South America will you find as many casinos as in Argentina. The country is home to almost 100 gaming properties with everything from small town gambling rooms to major resorts.

Many of the casinos in the country took their inspiration from more popular properties in Vegas, and some even borrowed their name. At most casinos, you’ll find that slots are far more popular than tables.

France

Step into any casino in the world, and most of the table games have their origins in French history. So, it makes sense that France is one of the most popular gaming destinations in Europe. The country has almost 200 gaming facilities, but most properties are small and certainly nothing like the massive resorts you’ll find in Vegas. The largest casino in the country has just 14 tables.

In France, most casinos have a basic dresscode, and ID is required to enter. Unlike in the U.S., online gaming is legal and more popular than on-premises gaming. Most casino operators also run the larger online gaming sites.

Photo credits: Holland Casino (Javi Vte Rejas), Skycity Darwin (Kenhodge13), Montecasino (ignotus340)

Vegas casino fined for dancing gambler

Las Vegas has a reputation for letting visitors get away with all kinds of “bad” behavior. Activities like gambling and drinking on the street get a free pass in this anything-goes gaming capital. But apparently that permissive Vegas attitude doesn’t extend to all behaviors, particularly if you like celebratory dancing when you hit it big at the tables.

Vegas casino Caesar’s Palace was recently fined $250,000 for allowing a player at their high-stakes Baccarat tables to dance and walk on the tables during play. According to a complaint filed by Nevada Gaming regulators, the culprit got up from his chair and climbed on the game table for a stretch of 45 minutes, walking, dancing (and playing) along the way.

Why didn’t Caesar’s Palace stop this dancing fool? It probably had something to do with the fact the perpetrator was playing a high-stakes game. Apparently when there’s big money involved, you can get away with a lot more than if you start doing the jig on top of a $5 Blackjack table. Word to the wise – if you’re going to celebrate big winnings in Vegas, best leave your dancing shoes at home – or at least keep them off the gaming tables.

[Photo by Flickr user Alex Cheek]

Las Vegas, off the beaten Strip

The Las Vegas Neon Museum doesn’t announce itself with flashy lights; you have to find it in less obvious ways. Take a $20 dollar cab ride up to northern edge of Sin City, past the baking asphalt parking lots erupting with weeds and stout pawn shops eager with WE BUY GOLD placards, to the nondescript building the museum calls home. That’s when you’ll see it. Across the street, shimmering in the desert heat like a mirage: a gigantic, rusty-metal pool player. In one hand a cue, cocked, ready to fire, the player’s torso twisted in contrapposto like a billiard-playing colossus. Near this metallic giant lay dozens of gorgeously decorated neon signs – Stardust, Golden Nugget, Silver Slipper – artwork from a bygone era of Vegas history, out of sight and out of mind. Las Vegas is not a city that honors its past. Yet somehow fragments remain, ready to reveal their secrets to visitors who venture beyond the town’s glittering Strip.

Vegas is town forever stuck in the present; a city that appears to have neither a past nor a future: it simply is. It’s a fact borne out by the city’s relentless reinvention, renovation and recreation. On the famous “Strip,” outdated hotels are leveled to make way for the newest mega-resort. Even finding a clock inside a casino is a challenge. All of this suggests a town that ignores the passing of time in exchange for the pleasures of an ephemeral present. Except not all of the Old Vegas has disappeared; it’s simply been shoved to the margins. Venture ten minutes from ageless Las Vegas Boulevard and a different Vegas emerges; a destination of Atomic Era drinking dens, whimsical pinball parlors and a museum harboring a gallery of neon masterpieces.

If you’ve ever wondered what exists in Vegas beyond Roman Strip Malls and Eiffel Tower knock-offs, it’s time to dig beneath the surface. Let’s tour Las Vegas, off the beaten Strip. Keep reading below for more.A Neon Graveyard
If it’s possible for an Inert Gas to symbolize the magnificent highs and tumbling lows of Vegas history, then Neon is it. This strange element has been fueling the glowing signage of Las Vegas ever since mobster Bugsy Siegel dared to imagine this fantasy desert town as the world’s foremost gambling mecca. Though the casinos of Bugsy’s day long-ago met the wrecking ball, some of their signage lives on at the Neon Museum in northern Las Vegas.

For $15, visitors can explore “canyons” stacked with old Vegas neon signage, and imagine for a moment what once was: a place that hummed with a fiery visual energy, full of wildly exotic genie lamps, cocksure cowboys and colorful flamingos erupting like fireworks in the dark. It might not look like the Louvre or The Met, but this is one of the world’s great repositories of art, strokes of neon artistry left to rust and bake in the relentless desert sun.

Drinking in the Past
The Atomic Liquor Store is more than a bar: it’s a temple to long-lost Americana. Reportedly the “oldest bar” in Vegas, this drinking den got its name from the 1950’s nuclear tests that took place only 60 or so miles from its front door. Swanky Vegas cocktail lounge this is not. In addition to its location deep in the heart of seedy Fremont Street, visitors will need to be buzzed in the locked front doors.

But fear not, this historical oddity is worth the trip. From the minute you catch a glimpse of the sturdy decades-old neon sign out front, greeting you like an old friend, to the inflation-proof $1 cans of Busch Beer and molding pool tables, you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. The bar’s ramshackle decor, killer jukebox stocked with plenty of Springsteen and Mellencamp and a rotating cast of local Sin City characters is guaranteed to provide a memorable night out.

Playing for Keeps
Games are the de facto language of gambling. In Las Vegas, wherever you move you’re sure to encounter these games, the constant gaze of a slot machine or the hypnotic spinning eye of a roulette wheel beckoning you to try your luck. But a very different type of game competes for your attention at the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. Except instead of one-armed bandits you’ll find 10,000 square feet of vintage pinball and arcade games from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, waiting for you to give them a play.

Whether you’re a fan of Captain Fantastic or Guns ‘n Roses, Waterworld or Pac-man, there’s a childhood memory begging you to relive the past. Drop in a quarter, and a real-life time machine springs back to life. Bells clink. 8-bit explosions foam in your eardrums. A flickering orange glow of enjoyment fills your view. But too soon, your pinball disappears from view and the machine again falls silent; a teasing vision of a Vegas that once was, but is no more.