Over the past decade, Macau has leapt forward dramatically as a gaming center, dominating the Asian gambling scene and giving Las Vegas a run for its money as the world's most popular casino town. The city's gaming revenue averaged at around $2.5 billion a month last year and (in a real shocker) actually beat all of Las Vegas's 2010 revenue by May. While it's been around for a while, a lot of people don't know about the city's rich gaming history.

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Gambling in Macau has actually been legal since 1847, when the Portuguese government legalized gaming in the colony to generate more revenue for the government. It was an immediate success, with over 200 gambling houses paying rent to the government and the city quickly earned the moniker of "The Monte Carlo" of the orient.

The first casino monopoly concession, meaning that one firm could own multiple gaming houses, was granted to the Tai Xing Company in 1937 and a massive change occurred in 1962 when the government granted the a syndicate jointly formed by Hong Kong and Macau businessmen the monopoly rights to all forms of gambling. This group, known as the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, introduced western-style games and modernized marine transport between Macau and Hong Kong. These changes meant a huge increase in visitors for the colony, with millions of gamblers coming from Hong Kong every year. Their license was renewed in 1986 but expired in 2001.

Even after Macau's succession from Portugal in 1999 and reunion with the People's Republic of China, there were no changes to Macau's gaming policy, likely because of the revenue it would mean for China's government. After the STDM license expired, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and others came to the market, bring the total number of mega-casino operations up to 33 different operations.

Of these, the largest is the Venetian Macau, a 40-story, $2.4 billion operation modeled on its sister, the Venetian in Las Vegas. The Venetian is the largest single structure hotel building in Asia, the sixth-largest building in the world by area and the largest casino in the world. 23 casinos are located on the Macau Peninsula and 10 casinos on Taipa Island. They all operate under a government franchise and under a common set of rules.

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Despite record revenue gains, Macau still trails Las Vegas in the proportion of revenue spent on non-gaming activities such as dining and shopping. As Macau continues to grow and expand in these areas, however, it will run into competition:  Taiwan, the Phillippines and Vietnam are all likely to offer the former Portguese challenges in the next decade.