Kin Cheung / AP
Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 | 10:28 a.m.
HONG KONG — The tiny Chinese city of Macau has again smashed its annual record for casino earnings as revenues last year hit a staggering $45 billion, further underlining its position as the world's biggest gambling market.
Macau's nearly three dozen casinos raked in 33.5 billion patacas ($4.2 billion) in December, according to data released Thursday by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, the gambling regulator. That brought revenue for 2013 to 360.8 billion patacas ($45 billion), up 18.6 percent from 2012.
Analyst Grant Govertsen of Union Gaming Research estimated that Macau's take would be more than seven times the amount earned on the Las Vegas Strip.
The former Portuguese colony's once-lethargic casino market has thrived since the government ended a gambling monopoly a decade ago and let in foreign players such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd.
The ensuing competition has transformed the tiny enclave into a gambling powerhouse, with glitzy new casino resorts centered on the Cotai Strip, marketed as Asia's version of the Las Vegas Strip.
All six casino operators in Macau, an hour by high-speed ferry from Hong Kong, are pouring billions of dollars into new megaprojects in the district in a fresh round of expansion.
Macau's casino revenues are the envy of other markets around Asia, which have been looking at ways to duplicate the southern Chinese city's success.
Increasing numbers of wealthy high-rolling visitors from mainland China have helped power Macau's rise as a casino hub.
Revenue has already overtaken the entire market in the U.S., where a year ago some 12,000 U.S. casinos raked in $37.3 billion, according to figures from the American Gaming Association. In the same period, Macau, which has 35 casinos and a population of about 560,000, earned $38 billion, according to the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau.
Though comparable U.S. figures for 2013 are not yet available, Macau's lead is certain to widen as growth in major markets like the Las Vegas Strip has largely hit a plateau.