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Poker is not the longstanding pastime in Macau that it is in Las Vegas. In fact, the first poker room in Macau wasn’t opened until the summer of 2007. Since then, several new poker rooms have opened up, and there are now five casinos offering live-dealer cash games, along with the occasional tournament or two.
If you’re a serious poker player, and you’ve heard a bit about the games in Macau, you probably believe that they’re extremely juicy. See, when the game was new, many rich Chinese patrons gave the game a try, and were willing to play at very high limits. When professional players got wind of this, they showed up and cleaned house against the wild, terrible players who frequented this game and were not afraid of chasing their losses. Before too long, locals made sure that foreigners and professionals weren’t allowed in these games anymore, or at the very least, that their play was severely limited.
Sadly, those days are gone…sort of. While there are still games at limits that will make your head spin – some of which dwarf even the biggest cash games Las Vegas has to offer – the play has improved significantly. Oh, it’s still wild and crazy, but the players are at least competent, leading to some very tough play at the higher limits. A recent visit to the city by some of the world’s greatest professional players (including Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey) became big news on the Internet; the pros made plenty of money, but not without some huge swings. These games featured pots that were often over $10 million in Hong Kong Dollars; they certainly aren’t for the faint of heart!
Of course, lower limit games are available too, so you don’t have to risk your entire life savings to play a little Texas Hold’em while you’re in Macau. While it hasn’t had a boom like in the United States and Europe, poker definitely has a foothold in Macau, and it’s likely to become even more popular over the next few years. Here are our picks for the best (and currently, the only) places to play poker in Macau!
A Quick Note About Poker in Macau
For anyone who’s been to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, it’s important to realise that the experience of poker in Macau is going to be completely different. Poker in Macau is viewed by the casinos as something of a novelty, and I guess most would rather not have any poker at all. On my last visit in December 2013 there were only 3 poker rooms still operating in Macau. Most Asians don’t know how to play poker and for the most part don’t care to learn. They prefer to play baccarat, sic bo and the other table games that are on offer in the casinos.
In the majority of Macau’s casinos, poker is seen by casino management as taking up space that could be used to house table games. And with poker rake being a mere 5% of a pot, this means that a poker room will earn significantly less money than house games would, hence the casinos generally anti-poker stance.
For any non-smokers, it’s important to note that smoking is a massive part of Chinese culture and as such smoking is allowed pretty much everywhere in the casinos (on the gaming floor at least). At the poker tables it’s no different. The player seated beside the dealer cannot smoke, but everywhere else at the table is ok, so be prepared to be playing in a very smoky environment.
The majority of the rooms in Macau have a max of 6-7 tables running at a time. At any given time the waiting list can be up 60 or 70 players, sometimes over 100. In terms of waiting time this can be up to 6 hours. On my last visit on a Saturday night in the Venetian there was a 128 player long waiting list for a HK$25/$50 table (roughly $3.50/$7). This was in spite of the fact that only 3 out of the rooms 8 or so tables were in use. If you want to play I’d recommend going early, putting your name on a list and going out to see some of Macau’s sites or grabbing some food, then come back a few hours later. Most rooms will call or text you when you put your name and number on the list.
Anyway without further ado here is my reviews of the rooms currently open for poker in Macau.
Wynn Macau Poker Room
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The Wynn is a great poker venue in Las Vegas, so the fact that the game is spread in the Wynn Macau seems only natural. The Wynn has used this expertise to create an excellent poker experience for visiting players; both no-limit Texas Hold’em and pot limit Omaha are played here, which is more variety that you’ll typically see in Macau, where hold’em is normally the only game played. Limits begin at just HKD 25/50, though you can play for much more than that if you’re looking for a bigger game. The game with the most played games is HK $50/$100 (about $7.50/$15). This usually gets 2-4 games alongside 1 HK $25/50 game and a couple of bigger games ranging from HK $100/$200 up to HK $1000-$2000. The rake in the Wynn is 5% up to a max of HK$200.
This is by far the nicest poker room in Macau. It’s very professionally run, the seats and tables are in good nick and well kept and there is good table service for food and drinks. Drinks such as Chinese tea, water and coffee are free, but anything else you’ll need to order off the menu at prices similar to what you’d pay in a Vegas casino. What’s more the staff here are extremely friendly and make you feel welcome unlike some of the other rooms in Macau.
The Wynn is one of the locations where the infamous semi-private nosebleed-stakes games are known to take place, so it also makes a great spot for trying to catch a glance of any big name pros who might be in town. On my last visit Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl were both playing big games in the room and according to the locals various other big name pros can be seen there on a regular basis.
It’s hard to comment on the overall softness of the games due to a small sample size, but I would say based on my limited experience that the $50/$100 game is far softer than any game I’ve played in Vegas. While there are a few decent players the majority are weak tight ABC players who are pretty easy to dominate.
Overall, if you want to play poker in Macau, you’ll want to check out the Wynn while you’re here!
StarWorld Poker Room
Located on the 3rd floor of the StarWorld Casino, this poker room spreads Texas Hold’em (both no-limit and limit) over 11 tables. There’s also baccarat available right in the poker room for your convenience; this is, after all, Macau. Star World is the only room in Macau where I’ve seen sit n gos spread. They offer HKD$1000+$100 sit n gos throughout the day. There are usually more smaller games running here than there are in the Wynn, with the main game being $25/$50. Waiting lists here can be extremely long so plan to do something before you play poker as you’ll more than likely be waiting a long time to get a game.
StarWorld is also known for spreading a fair amount of tournament poker (and they may do even more when they take on the Asian Poker tour branding in the near future), and is also the site for that rotating super-high limit game we’ve talked about so much, which means you might spot a visiting pro or two making their living here. The nosebleeds are usually played here, but we’re told they’ve been going in the Wynn just as much recently.
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StarWorld is also professionally run. Though not as nice as the Wynn it’s definitely a long way ahead of the Venetian.
Venetian Macau Poker Room
The Venetian has a poker room, though it’s probably the least welcoming of Macau’s remaining 3 poker rooms. Staff and management are the rudest I’ve ever encountered at any poker room anywhere in the world. The room has 8 or 9 tables, but they rarely open all of these even when waiting lists are massive. Most of the time you’ll be waiting a minimum of 2 hours to get a game.
The poker room is in a small cordoned off area near to the South Lobby. As in most rooms, the game of choice is no-limit Texas Hold’em; most of the time, only HKD25/50 and 50/100 games get going with the occasional 100/200 game being spread. The Venetian has the highest poker rake in the whole of Macau raking 5% up to a max of HK$300, a full 50% more than Star World and the Wynn.
Everyone says the Venetian has the softest games in Macau. I would tend to agree with this; the play at the Venetian is quite loose and passive – a wonderful combination if you’re looking to make a profit. That said the Wynn isn’t massively different in playing standard and if I had the choice of only playing at one room, it would be the Wynn. However, the Venetian is the best place for lower stake games as they usually have 2-3 25/50 games going in the evening times.
Grand Lisboa Poker Room – Update Dec 2012 – Now Closed
The Grand Lisboa is the home to PokerStars Macau, the largest poker room in all of Asia. There are 33 tables here, which spread both cash games and tournaments, which are rarely seen in other Macau locations. Given the relative newness of poker in Macau, the Grand Lisboa’s room features a Learn-to-Play table that can quickly get beginners up to speed on the rules of the game. Vegas slot machines for free. Games start at limits of HKD 10/20, though they also spread much higher limit games for those who are interested.
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If there’s one downside to the Grand Lisboa, it’s that they only spread Texas Hold’em, and don’t have Omaha games like the Wynn has. On the other hand, this is the room where major events (like those on the Asia-Pacific Poker Tour) are held in Macau, so it might have the edge as far as your chances of meeting pros are concerned.
Hard Rock (City of Dreams) Poker Room – Now Closed
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The Hard Rock Hotel, located in one of the towers of the City of Dreams, has its own separate casino that contains one of the few poker rooms in Macau. There are seven tables of no-limit Texas Hold’em action here, two of which are reserved for VIP high stakes action. Of course, there’s yet another, more exclusive VIP area that has two more tables; this is usually where the biggest games are played.
Typically, the game ranges from HKD 10/25 to 100/200, though larger games aren’t uncommon. If you like the look and feel of a Hard Rock Cafe, this is a great spot for playing poker in Macau.