MACAU, China (CBS) - The gambling industry is doubling down on Macau. Last year, casinos in that Chinese city took in a record $38 billion. Another gambling hub is getting in on the deal.
It looks like Las Vegas; the glitter, the glamour, the gambling. But Macau is no Vegas, baby. Edward Tracy says, "Macau as a market will generate more gaming revenue by a factor of about four and a half to five times all of Nevada."
Edward Tracy is CEO of the Venetian Macau. The Las Vegas original is big. This one on the Chinese island of Macau is bigger, three times bigger than any casino in Las Vegas. These luxury shops: the most profitable retail space in the world. Tracy says, "We move about 137,000 people a day through our properties here a day. About two months ago we had some executives from Las Vegas come through. They arrived on a Sunday evening and one of the executives looked at me and said,'We weren't this busy on New Year's Eve.'"
That's why Las Vegas casinos are betting on Macau. China let them in in 2002. By 2015 this "City of Dreams" expects to take in $62 billion from gambling, compared to $13 billion in Nevada. It's enough to put Macau on the map and the big screen like in the recent James Bond movie Skyfall. Not bad for a recently down-on-its-luck, former Portuguese colony off the south coast of China.
Tracy says, "There's a rising wealth class in China. I think everyone is familiar with the economic boom that's happened in mainland China."
Over 1 billion people just a causeway away. Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal, a holdover from colonial times. Tourists pour in from the mainland and line up for buses to the casinos. In fact, tourists come from all over Asia.
Not only does Macau have a long history, a now crumbling colonial cathedral was built in 1602, but it has a long history with gambling. As late as the 1920s and '30s what was then a port colony was known as a glamorous, but shady sin city full of smugglers and gamblers.
There's still a shady side. The Chinese government just launched a campaign to fight money laundering. But Macau sells itself as family friendly. If about now you're thinking China has surpassed the U.S. in manufacturing and now this; well listen to Eric Zahn. He and his family now live in China, but every year he goes back to Vegas for a weekend with the guys. Zahn says, "In the United States it is a party atmosphere. Everybody has a great time. Here in Macau, there's not a lot of cheering going on when people win and it just seems like a business atmosphere here."
Of course business is why Vegas casinos are here. Tracy says, "We have $8 billion invested today. We have scheduled another $3.5 to $4 billion worth of development over the next couple of years. It's an extraordinary business opportunity because it doesn't exist any place else."
So, the sky's the limit. Over 2 billion people live within a five hour flight of Macau. That's the time it takes to fly from New York to Los Angeles. American casinos operating here are betting Macau is only going to get bigger.