The impact of Casinos on urban space

There is a long history of the gambling industry in Macau.  In the past, under the rule of Portugal, the trading of slaves was very common.  The lords lured the poor people to gamble and force the m to be slaves when they lose all their money.  This was the origin of gambling industry in Macau.


In 1847, the revenue of colonial government had been dropping so the government legalized gambling industry to maintain the income of government.  This provided a strong foundation for the future rapid growth of gambling industry.  In 1872, Britain government prohibited gambling in Hong Kong, which drove a large amount of Hong Kong residents to visit Macau and gamble there.


After the handover from Portugal back to China, the relationship between Macau and China had been more intimate and the close operation brought millions of visitors from China to Macau every year.  In 2002, Macau liberated the gambling industry and this greatly increased the number of casinos and visitors.  This created a huge effect on the urban planning.


The colonial government had made a master plan for NAPE (New claimed areas in Outer Harbor and Nam Wan Bay) and detailed preparation for future development of Cotai before it handed Macau back to China.  The city is tried to be planned in a balance way, with well-integrated residential areas connected to social and public facilities.  Green area parking is provided as well.  In the best case, this can link up with the narrow streets and organic urban fabric of the old part of the city as well.

the NAPE area, mainly for residential areas. The urban park is now occupied by Sand Casino. Green areas have being eaten up by casinos.
the master plan of NAPE area made by colonial government  © 2007, Urban planning practices and scenarios for Macau Development
1999 plan of COTAI.
Zoning division of COTAI in 1999  © 2007, Urban planning practices and scenarios for Macau Development


However, all these plans are now eaten up by the gambling industry.  The green areas in NAPE area are now occupied by Sand Casino and the Cultural Center.  To cope with the increasing number of tourists, 59 new hotels are to be developed and 2 existing hotels would be expanded trying to provide around 30000 extra rooms.  In the Cotai area, the original core of the plan was residential and social facilities.  The plan after 2002 was changed to major casinos and hotels.  Only a few sport and residential areas are left.

The distribution of casinos and hotels
The distribution of casinos and hotels  © 2008, Growth and degradation in the Orient’s ‘Las Vegas’: issues of environment in Macau

From these 2 districts, we can see that Macau lacks a sustainable urban planning to cope with the problem brought by the liberation of gambling industry.  The original residential district and green areas are given up to free up lands for casinos and hotels.  This act actually brings 2 major negative effects.

Increase in tourists
Increase in number of tourists © 2010, Yearbook of Statistics, Macau


First, for a healthy urban city, the green social space for people to interact with each other is essential.  Lewis Mumford once mentioned city as a social theatre and the infrastructure affected the effectiveness of the city to function.  Now, different casinos blocks form and there are no connections between casinos of different companies.  These mega blocks on the plan of Macau actually blocked the interaction of people from a fluid movement around the city.


Second, Macau government faced a serious problem – Macau reaching saturation in urban spaces.  Las Vegas took 75 years to form a large scale of gambling and hotel networks on desert of Nevada and now Macau tried to do the same in only 5 years on such a small land.  The increase in numbers of immigrants and travelers require more lands for accommodations and Macau deals with this by reclaiming more lands for urban development.  This makes me concern whether Macau government carefully planned the connections between the newly reclaimed lands and the original peninsula.  Otherwise, this would only create several mega blocks in Macau but not a “city”.



  1. Francisco, V. P. + Wan, P. (2007). Urban planning practices and scenarios for Macau Development. University of Macau.
  2. Xiao, J. Y. (2008). Growth and degradation in the Orient’s ‘Las Vegas’: issues of environment in Macau. International Journal of Environmental Studies. Vol.65, Issue 5, 667-683
  3. Macau Government Information Bureau. (2010). Yearbook of Statistic, Macau. Macau Government Information Bureau.
  4. Wan, Y.K. (2012). The social, economic and environmental impacts of casino gaming in Macao: the community leader perspective. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. Vol. 20, No. 5, 737 – 755

2 Comments on “The impact of Casinos on urban space

  1. I agree that some places in Macau – casinos in particular – put focus in the interior more than it does the exterior, with seemingly scarce green space for the public to interact. Hotels and casinos attempt to create an independent world of their own as an attempt to build an atmosphere for visitors just like they do in Disneyland. I’m wondering if there are hotels and casinos that actually open up their grounds for public interaction while trying to create a atmosphere that is like a world of their own? Say for example some rather open gardens at ground level that are open to all and are more inviting. If such hotels or casinos exist (not necessarily within Macau but around the world), I think they would be interesting cases to look at.

    • Your suggestion is inspiring! Instead of looking at hotels around the world, I try to compare the old and new casino hotels in Macau. It’s interesting to find that there was a difference in the design of ground floor. The new one tends to form a more independent world that the old ones but in the meantime, there are more green spaces where public can access as well. The gardens are open to the public but the entrance was made to be not easy to observe which created a effect that the green garden space seems to be a private space for the residents of hotels surrounding the casinos.

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