APPT Macau: The sleeping giant awakes
Macau is often called as the "Las Vegas of the East", and for good reason. More gambling dollars flow through the doors of Macau's 28 casinos (approximately USD $6 billion each year) than any other gaming destination on the planet, including Vegas.
Despite the role that the casino industry plays in both cities, the similarities between Macau and Las Vegas just about end there. Situated about 60 kilometres south-west of Hong Kong, Macau (or the Special Administrative Region of Macau as it is officially known) consists of a small portion of the Macau Peninsula plus the islands of Taipa and Coloane.
More than 500,000 people live in an area of less than 30 sq km, making Macau the most densely populated territory in the world.
Most visitors to Vegas arrive via air or across the Nevada Desert by road. In contrast, the majority of Macau's tourists journey via high-speed ferry (or helicopter for the lucky few). The outline of the bridges that link the mainland with Taipa, the soaring Macau Tower and the remarkable lotus-flower shape of the Grand Lisboa Hotel slowly emerge from the haze to create a spectacular vista for travellers arriving via water.
Macau also provides visitors with a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures, as it was China's first and last European colony. Portuguese traders first settled in Macau in the 16th century and subsequently administered the region until the handover on December 20, 1999.
The Central People's Government is responsible for the Macau's defence and foreign affairs, but Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system and culture.
The blend of east and west isn't hard to spot. It's there in buildings like the Portuguese influenced Real Senado (the Loyal Senate) and the 16th century A-Ma Temple, the Chinese temple from which the city's name was taken. In restaurants and cafes, classic Chinese dishes might be finished with a Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese egg custard tart).
And there's one other big difference between Vegas and Macau, where the desert heat is replaced by energy sapping, T-shirt sticking humidity (now we know how the athletes in Beijing felt during the 2008 Olympic Games).
In the past 12 months, Macau has started to embrace another element of Western culture: poker. In November 2007, the first No Limit Hold'em poker tournament ever played in the People's Republic of China was held as part of the first season of the PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT).
Given the success of that inaugural event, it's appropriate that season two of the APPT opens at the venue that has quickly established a reputation as the hub of poker in Macau: the Grand Waldo Hotel and Casino.
The five-star Grand Waldo Hotel opened in 2006 and was the first one-stop hotel and entertainment resort in Macau. Overlooking the Pearl River, the People's Republic of China lies not much more than a nine-iron away.
Such was the success of last year's APPT Macau: Asian Poker Open and High Roller events, the Grand Waldo is now home to PokerStars Macau: the first live poker room to open in the world's premier gaming locale.
Over the next 10 days, the world's best players will return to Macau to contest two events - the HKD $25,000 buy-in Main Event and the prestigious High Roller event with a buy-in of HKD $150,000. Both events have a guaranteed prize pool of HKD $10,000,000.
Team PokerStars Pros who have arrived in recent days include 2005 WSOP champion Joe Hachem, three-time WSOP bracelet winner Barry Greenstein, 2006 Aussie Millions winner Lee "Final Table" Nelson, 2008 PCA champion Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier, Vanessa Rousso and Chad Brown.
Other players who can't wait to experience poker Macanese-style include dual WSOP main event winner and 10-time bracelet winner Johnny Chan, six-time WSOP bracelet winner Men "The Master" Nguyen, his wife Van Nguyen (the first female to win an open WPT title), 2008 WPT Championship winner David Chiu and WPT Ladies Night IV victor JJ Liu.
Over the next nine days, we look forward to bringing you all the action from the biggest poker tournament ever held in Asia: the PokerStars.net APPT Macau.