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Where the streets are paved with gold

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Taking a chance
People may think that the Monaco Grand Prix is the motorsport event that’s most synonymous with the addictive click of the roulette wheel in the world, but they would be wrong. Because while the vicissitudes of fate dealt out round the streets of the Principality may act as a powerful metaphor for the famous Casino, it’s nothing compared to the FIA GT World Cup in Macau.
Macau is the gambling capital of the world, with more casinos per capita than anywhere else in the world – and the industry contributing more than 70% of the government’s annual tax income, and 50% of the total economy. Macau actually makes more money out of gambling than Las Vegas.
The annual race that takes place on the amazing city streets are no less predictable than the vagaries of baccarat. In 2016, Laurens Vanthoor became probably the only person in the world to win a race on his roof, after the race was red-flagged following his accident and the results counted from the end of the previous lap…
It’s just the sort of thing you’d expect to happen in a place whose very existence is defined by the wheel of fortune. The Portuguese owners of Macau made gambling legal in the 1850s and the industry has gone from strength to strength ever since. It’s the only place in China where gambling is legal – and there are plenty of other attractions to keep those looking for a good time amused as well….

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Turning the tables
In total, there are more than 30 casinos in Macau, the largest of which is the Venetian. Macau is a vibrant, hectic community, which owes much to its Portuguese origins: especially when it comes to the food and local colours. The other influences are harder to place, especially the architectural themes behind edifices such as the Grand Lisboa hotel, which offers a commanding view over the corner of the same name. The hotel is certainly striking, seemingly modelled on something between a wedding cake and Versailles – and it’s not the only structure of that ilk. Another hotel resembles a Russian orthodox cathedral. 
At the same time, there are ultra-modern casinos and traditional colonial buildings as well as 1960s shopping malls. A glorious, untrammelled, multinational chaos rules the place, which all adds to the charm of this unique venue – about an hour from Hong Kong by boat.  

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History repeats itself
Like Monaco, the Macau Guia circuit has been largely unchanged throughout its long and illustrious history. The first year was 1954, and appropriately enough it was a sports car race: the predecessors to the modern GT cars.
The original idea for the event came from a trio of local sports car enthusiasts – Fernando Macedo Pinto, Carlos Silva and Paulo Antas – who hatched a plan for a motorised treasure hunt over coffee one morning in the Riviera Hotel.
It started off as just a bit of fun but soon got serious and professional help was called in from the Hong Kong motor club – it was them that first saw the parallels with Monaco. Macau’s authorities enthusiastically jumped on board and the race began to take shape. 
The first Macau Grand Prix was won by Eddie Carvalho driving a Triumph TR2. The circuit left much to be desired however, and the official stewards report noted the “back of the circuit is very bad - mostly dirt and loose sand.”
But from then on, the race became increasingly professional, won by all the greats including Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. But it’s another former Macau winner, Martin Brundle, who describes it best: “This place is extraordinary,” he said. “It’s a magnificent race track, which I still think of like Monaco at the beginning, followed by Silverstone as you go down the reservoir section. I’d love to go back and do that again.”
It’s something that you hear from many drivers; the place holds an allure that they can’t quite let go of. Soon, you’ll find out why.

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