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 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.
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?
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, theMonte 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.
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