Macau’s Big Gamble

James Fallows – Atlantic

Today’s boom times in China are interesting in their own right, as economic booms always are. By chance and by design, I have lived in the middle of several of them: the Texas oil boom of the mid-1970s, Japan’s all-around boom of the late ’80s, and the Seattle and Bay Area Internet bubble of the late ’90s. Inside the boom zone, people don’t spend much time thinking about how the good times began, or asking how long the boom can last. Everyone, everywhere, takes their own prosperity as a sign of cleverness, wise planning, and hard work…
… Yes, what is happening in Macau should be of intense interest to casino operators everywhere, and to the financiers and suppliers who thrive off the world’s gambling industry, and to those compiling information on how Chinese people use their new wealth. But in repeated visits to Macau, I found it far more interesting than I would have guessed from most of the gambling-boom stories.
It is interesting in a lowbrow way, because of Macau’s ineradicable seediness. Look in one direction, and you see a new five-star hotel. Turn 90 degrees, and you see an alley down which Indiana Jones might run, pursued by gangsters, or where Sydney Greenstreet might totter out from a smoky den. But this same small locale is also deeply interesting in highbrow ways. The fate of modern Macau will be determined in part by the same political and ideological struggles that are determining so many other aspects of China’s rise.
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