Is Vegas Still the Gambling Capital of the World?

A Welcome to Las Vegas sign with palm trees in the background.

Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world! That’s what most people think of when they hear talk of Sin City. It’s the “bright light city” that Elvis sang about: A place that never sleeps, where you can rub shoulders with Hollywood stars on the Strip and maybe, just maybe, win something by playing the best casino games in the world. But what people think isn’t always the same as what’s real. The world has changed a lot since pre-pandemic times. For instance, a lot of people started playing online casino games instead of visiting land-based casinos. At the same time, tourism has suffered a great deal. So is Las Vegas still the gambling capital of the world? We say, cautiously, yes. Read on to find out why!

How Vegas became the gambling capital of the world

The Las Vegas story began in 1905 when construction workers laying down railway tracks to connect the city and the Pacific played card games to unwind. Criminal activities soon developed, and the state authorities outlawed all forms of gambling in 1910. Vegas had to wait until 1931 for gambling to return legally. Casinos reopened, and by 1941 extravagant casino resorts such as the El Rancho were attracting visitors in search of amenities including casino table games, swimming pools and horse-riding facilities.

Then in 1946, the first glamorous Hollywood-style casino resort opened: The Flamingo. Las Vegas started to promote the American Dream and the chance to make the big time. People still associate this theme with the “city that never sleeps.” Today, Vegas is even bigger than before, with sophisticated mega-resorts dotted along the famous Strip such as the MGM Grand. With 6,852 rooms, it’s the largest hotel in the US and the third-largest in the world.

The rise of Macau, home of the baccarat casino game

Thanks largely to the MGM Grand and other mega-resorts, Vegas is unquestionably the world’s casino capital for tourism. In 2019, an incredible 49 million people visited Sin City’s 144 casinos (the largest number of casinos in any city in the world). This brought in revenue of approximately $8.5 billion – which is where Vegas’s claim to be the world casino capital hits a stumbling block called Macau.

Home of the baccarat casino game, Macau – an autonomous region of China on the south coast, across the Pearl River delta from Hong Kong – is the world’s biggest gambling hub by revenue. The city only has 41 casinos, but it generated $360 billion in earnings in 2019. That’s six times more than Vegas! The reason is that Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal. China’s high-rolling millionaires have nowhere else to go to gamble on casino table games. Over half the city’s total revenue comes from gambling, which employs approximately 17% of Macau’s 600,000 residents and contributes 80% of the local government’s tax revenue. So Macau’s claim to be the gambling capital of the world in terms of revenue would seem to be pretty solid – if it weren’t for the pandemic.

Casino chips with a dealer chip on top.

An uncertain future for Macau

The pandemic hit Macau hard. Severe travel restrictions by the Chinese government cut the flow of tourists so much that gambling revenue was cut to the bone. Bloomberg reports that in August 2021, casinos brought in 82% less money than during the same period in 2019. That’s despite the fact that the majority of casinos have reopened with safety protocols. Companies are focusing on online casino activity such as live dealer games instead. It’ll be interesting to see which will be Macau’s best online casino.

To make matters worse, in September, Chinese government officials announced plans to clamp down more tightly on casino operators. They might even appoint a state official to supervise companies directly. A key topic is how many casino licenses (referred to as “concessions” in Macau) will be granted going forward, and for how long. This uncertainty wiped out $18 billion in Macau casino stock market value when the announcement was made. It’s hard to say whether the autonomous region will retain its status as world casino capital by revenue in the future.

American casinos revive

While Macau is having problems, the US casino industry is undergoing a sudden boom. Just look at Atlantic City, the casino capital of the East Coast, with its iconic boardwalk that stretches four miles along the Jersey Shore. In July, the New Jersey Total released figures indicating that Atlantic City’s nine casino properties raked in $1.85 billion over the previous year. That’s nowhere near as much as the pre-pandemic gaming revenue of $3 billion that these casinos made in 2019, but it’s 18.4% more than they made over the first seven months of 2018.

The Atlantic City casino that generated the highest gaming revenue is once again the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, with a reported $88 million in total gaming revenue in July. This happened to be the best overall month in the 16 years that Borgata has been operating. Another monthly record for Borgata: $31.8 million of that revenue came from table games.

Return to Las Vegas

Going back to the topic of Las Vegas, it’s clear that Sin City’s also beating the pandemic blues. Convention business and international travel are still down, but American gamblers are spending their money on the best casino games on the Strip once again. In fact, casino revenue in the second quarter of 2021 was $1.79 billion – the third-highest of all time and 8.3% more than the same quarter in 2019. Ever popular, slots turned in an especially good performance. They brought in an all-time record of $358.3 million in revenue, up 24.5% compared to May 2019. According to a July report by Fitch Ratings, Vegas is set to fully recover in 2023. That’s a whole year earlier than previously thought. If this trend continues and considering other global developments, the city will certainly reclaim the crown of the gambling capital of the world for tourism and maybe even revenue too.

Get ready for recreation at Borgata Online

It’s great that players are returning to play casino table games in person at Vegas and Atlantic City. If you’re planning a recreational gambling trip, why not sign up with us here at Borgata Online for some practice before you go? We have a broad range of the best casino games for you to try out online. We have all the casino table games you can think of as well as the best online slots. If you’re curious about Macau, try our live dealer version of the baccarat casino game. All our online casino games are mobile-friendly so you can play anywhere you choose.