Las Vegas tycoon hits an ever bigger jackpot in Macau casino boom

Lady Luck has always had a soft spot for Macau. The former Portuguese colony is the only place on Chinese soil where gambling is legal, and the industry's leading lights in the once-sleepy enclave are making even more money than they do in Las Vegas.

Many mainland Chinese gamble with an intensity that is frightening to behold, but their exploits on Macau's green baize have meant huge increases in earnings at casinos run by the likes of the Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn, who revealed recently that his hotels in Macau now take more money than those in the Nevadan desert.

Just an hour from Hong Kong by ferry, Macau has survived and thrived despite punitive visa restrictions imposed by Beijing to prevent officials from the mainland from blowing their municipalities' money in the casinos. So far, the province has also seen off any threat from Singapore's plush new gaming-centred resorts.

Macau overtook Las Vegas as the world's biggest casino market in 2006 but only recently have the big gaming companies seen earnings in China beat those from the US. Chad Mollman, an analyst at fund manager Morningstar, told the Macau Daily Times: "Macau continues to do the unbelievable."

Takings at Mr Wynn's Macau resort were up nearly 47 per cent in the first three months of the year, to £524m. Revenues on VIP tables were up 44.7 per cent. In the mass-market segment of the business they rose nearly 30 per cent. Mr Wynn expects to be granted permission to open a new venue in Macau "any day now".

Gaming became popular in the former colony in the mid-19th century, but it was not until the territory reverted to Chinese rule in 1999 that the business was liberalised and billions of dollars begin to arrive from the mainland. For many years, the only man in town was Stanley Ho, who ran the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau – a monopoly since 1937. In 2002 the government decided to open up the industry, allowing some of gambling's biggest names into the Chinese market. Hong Kong's Galaxy and Sheldon Adelson's Sands group from Las Vegas came to Macau. Later, Steve Wynn joined the fray, and punters will also find MGM in town these days.

Macau once had a reputation as a basic destination with no-frills casinos, but the arrival of Mr Wynn and his competitors with more upmarket venues has attracted high-rollers.