(Time) – Like gambling enclaves everywhere, Macau is awash in neon light. But if the lights seem to shine just that bit brighter here than elsewhere, that’s because this Special Autonomous Region of China — made up of a small peninsula, two islands and a chunk of reclamation on China’s southern coast — is the world’s richest gaming hub by far, and looks set to get even bigger.
Macau is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal (horse racing on a lavish scale takes place just across the Pearl River estuary in Hong Kong). That makes this onetime Portuguese colony the darling of international gaming juggernauts: it has 35 casinos in just 29.5 sq km (11.4 square miles). Last year, gaming companies, including global heavyweights Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International, took in more than $45 billion here, about seven times more than they did in Las Vegas.
Naturally, all the trappings of money are here, or will be — from designer boutiques to expensive Russian prostitutes to what will be the world’s largest fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms, destined for a high-roller hotel that will open in 2016 with a presidential suite priced at $130,000 a night, and invitation-only jewelry stores where items will start at $1 million each.
But where there are a few people with a lot of money, there tend to be many discontented others without it, and Macau is no exception.