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Las Vegas in Singapore: Violence, Progress and the Crisis of Nationalist Modernity

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Las Vegas is famous for its glitter and greed, but it rarely gets the recognition it deserves for another specialty: inventing a globalized corporate model of institutional control. For decades, the gambling mecca has perfected the concept of the casino-hotel, which has been exported to countries around the world, including Singapore with the opening of the Marina Bay Sands. When this luxury resort opened in 2010, it was the convergence of two cities’ very different histories of gambling. Las Vegas in Singapore looks at moments in Singapore’s and Las Vegas’ pasts when the moral and legal status of gambling changed significantly, and examines how modern states and corporations capitalized on it. The book begins in colonial Singapore in the 1880s, when British administrators revised the law in response to the political threat posed by Chinese-run gambling syndicates. It then looks at the 1960s when the newly independent city-state created a national lottery while at the same time criminalizing both organized and petty gambling. From there the focus moves to corporate Las Vegas in the 1950s. The book reveals how the Las Vegas model of casino development evolved into a highly rationalized template designed to maximize profits. It all comes together when the Vegas model is architecturally re-fashioned into Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. Ultimately, Lee Kah-Wee argues that the historical project of the control of vice is also about the control of space and capital. The result is an uneven landscape where the legal and moral status of gambling is contingent on where it is located. As the current wave of casino expansion spreads across Asia, he warns that these developments should not be seen as liberalization but instead as a monopolization by modern states and corporations.