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Asia's Las Vegas celebrates 10 high-rolling years

Macau celebrated 10 years of Chinese rule yesterday, a frantic decade that has seen the once sleepy Portuguese colony transformed into an Asian gambling hub that makes more money from the tables than Las Vegas.

President Hu Jintao was on hand to oversee the celebrations, inspect the troops and inaugurate Macau's new leader, Fernando Chui. He also promised two pandas to Macau as a birthday present.

The Chinese leader urged Mr Chui to diversify business in the 27-sq-km territory into other areas such as logistics, and said China was always at hand to help.

The city, which lies around one hour from Hong Kong by ferry, should be "strengthening and improving the management of the gambling sector", diversifying the economy, lifting living standards and improving the educational system, President Hu said.

Macau's future may involve diversification into other areas, but the present is very much about the green baize tables and roulette wheels of the casinos. It is the only place in China where widespread gambling is legal, and it has capitalised on that status to become the world's biggest gambling city.

There is a widespread feeling that Macau needs China to survive. Construction has just begun on the world's longest cross-sea bridge linking the southern economic hub of Guangdong Province to Hong Kong and Macau. The sleepier side to the enclave is still around; you just have to look harder to find it. Portuguese and Chinese are the two official languages, signs along still-winding streets are in both tongues, and dotted around is the colonial, neo-classical architectural style seen in other former colonies such as Brazil. The city's elegant downtown has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The casino sector was hit by the economic crisis toward the end of last year and revenues began to fall, with thousands of workers laid off. But China's robust economy has helped keep Macau's casinos humming, and in October they raked in a record £980m – nearly twice that of Nevada.