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

Photo of the day – Stormtroopers in Las Vegas

Photo of the day

Have you ever walked down the street and seen something amazing and cursed yourself for not having a camera? Lucky for us, Flickr user mciccone640 had his camera and shot today’s Photo of the Day of couple of robots stormtroopers* in Las Vegas. I wonder if there was a convention in town or if the guys were just wearing costumes for luck in the casinos. Perhaps a theme wedding? Hope they had a lucky night (going to the bathroom couldn’t have been easy), no matter the reason.

*This PotD was originally called Robots in Las Vegas until my husband informed me that they were, in fact, storm troopers and not robots. Sorry. Still can’t be easy for them to go to the bathroom.

Capture any unusual sights on the street your travels? Add your pix to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use one for a future Photo of the Day.

MGM Resorts launches hotel loyalty program for Las Vegas hotels

mgm grandLas Vegas lovers: get ready to earn back what you lost at the tables.

MGM Resorts just announced it will launch a hotel loyalty program that includes room upgrades, casino credits, and dining and shopping rewards.

Called M Life, the program will launch Tuesday and, according to Travel Weekly, will expand into a full loyalty program later this year recognizing guest spending on hotel stays, shopping, dining and gambling.

The introduction of the loyalty program competes with MGM’s rivals on the Las Vegas Strip, many of whom offer loyalty programs and players clubs, thanks to association with larger brands. The Cosmopolitan resort (part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection) and the Venetian and Palazzo (both part of the InterContinental Hotels Group system) currently allow customers to earn loyalty points and redeem rewards at various hotels and retailers. However, MGM Resorts’ program goes beyond traditional hotel loyalty program, by introducing gaming and the casino into the mix.
The program will have four tiers (Sapphire, Pearl, Gold and Platinum) and allow “players” to gamble their way to hotel benefits including free rooms and upgrades, pre-sale tickets to concerts and shows and VIP services. The Express Comps feature will enable guests to use their card anytime to instantly redeem rewards.

According to Travel Weekly, “For instance, if a guest is playing at a slot machine and gets hungry or wants to buy a show ticket, they can instantly redeem rewards at participating venues, said MGM Resorts. Express Comps appear as dollars, making redemption transparent and simple.”

The M Life program will cover Las Vegas hotels Bellagio, Aria, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Excalibur, Luxor, Monte Carlo and New York-New York.

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)

Confessions of a casino manager – fun facts about super high limit gambling

On my recent press trip to the Planet Hollywood casino and resort, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bill Zimmer. Mr. Zimmer is the VP of casino operations for Harrah’s Entertainment in the Las Vegas area. This means he oversees all gaming activities at hotels like Bally’s, Paris, Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood.

Mr. Zimmer has been in this business since the 70’s, and has been a casino manager for over 30 years – which gives him a very impressive amount of knowledge about what goes on inside his casinos.

During our chat, I learned a lot about high limit gambling, and how hotels treat their high rollers. If you believe what you see in James Bond movies, you’ll think can walk into a casino, drop $500,000 on the table and put it all on black. In reality, it really isn’t that simple.

When a very high limit player picks a casino, it is actually up to the casino to decide whether they want to take the risk. If a gambler has a million dollars to spend, he or she will contact the casino, and draw up a contract. In the contract, all the amenities the hotel provides to the gambler will be outlined, and the gambler will commit to a certain amount of gaming.

Amenities for a high roller include flights on private jets, the largest suite available, dining options at any restaurant with the best available table, free VIP show tickets and even things like free spending money if said gambler is accompanied by his wife (or someone else special). In some cases, his special lady friend can take a limo to the Caesars Palace Forum Shops with a $10,000 check, courtesy of the casino.

The chip tray at a high limit table will be stocked with as much as $1.5 million on a weekend. On this weekday there was a mere $690,820 in chips. This is also the closest I’ve ever been to this much money. The only thing standing between me and this $690,820 is a plastic panel, lots of cameras and an unknown number of security guards.

On the topic of theft and fraud, Mr. Zimmer showed his experience in the industry – he had plenty of stories to tell, but only a few details he was willing to share. He acknowledged that theft is of course an issue, and that people do indeed try to walk out of the property with chips belonging to the casino, but even just looking at him, you can tell he’s already checked you out long before you even shake his hand. This is a man who is paid to know what is going on at his tables.

The quickest way to get rich is to mess around with chips, or to do a grab in the chip tray. But he assured us that the people watching the tables know every single trick in the book, and that anyone stupid enough to try and grab their fortune would not make it past the exit door. Technology also plays a roll in the casino, and he can always tell exactly where chips are.

His final story was by far the most interesting – at the end of last year, a high roller visited Vegas with $5 million in gambling money, and started to find a casino willing to host him at their tables. Most of the properties politely refused, including the casinos Mr. Zimmer runs. Eventually the gambler found a casino (which I won’t name here), and several hours later, he left the building with $25 million of their money, wiping out a large part of their profit for the quarter. Apparently, when it comes to very high limit gaming, both parties are gambling with their money.

When asked how well he knows the major players, he told us that if the player is in a position to play the high limit tables, he’ll know who they are, what they play, how well they play and some other handy nuggets of information. If a new player shows up, the information is shared between all Vegas casino managers, and anything interesting worth telling other local casino managers is just a speed-dial away.

Many thanks to Mr. Zimmer for his fascinating insights into this world, and to Harrah’s Entertainment for hosting the event.

My trip to Planet Hollywood was part of a Harrah’s Entertainment press trip. All opinions and photos are my own.