Monday, July 8, 2013

A Culture in Which Notions of Luck and Fate Play Integral Roles

I found this on the Miami Herald

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"Tiny Chinese Enclave Remakes Gambling World"

By Hannah Dreier (AP)

LAS VEGAS -- Most people still think the U.S. gambling industry is anchored in Las Vegas, with its booming Strip and 24/7 action, a place where years of alluring marketing campaigns have helped scrub away the taint of past corruption.

Yet in just a decade, the center of gambling has migrated to the other side of the world, settling in a tiny Chinese territory an hour's ferry ride from Hong Kong. The gambling mecca of Macau now handles more wagers than all U.S.-based commercial casinos put together, and many of those bets end up swelling the balance sheets of U.S. corporations.

But as U.S. gambling companies have remade Macau, Macau has also remade them.

Chasing riches, these companies have been hit with allegations of improper conduct, prompting investigations and serious questions about how closely U.S. authorities are watching the corporations' overseas dealings, and what, if any, real repercussions they could face. Could these corruption claims revive the specter of gambling's bad old days, when Sin City casinos kept mobsters flush?

"There are some countries where you either have to pay to play and break the law, or you have to not do business there," Indiana-based casino consultant Steve Norton said. "I think the jury's still out on Macau."

A few hours' flight from half the world's population, Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal. Each month, 2.5 million tourists flood the glitzy boomtown half the size of Manhattan to try their luck in neon-drenched casinos. Most of them are nouveau-riche Chinese who sip tea and chain-smoke as they play at baccarat.

The former Portuguese colony has long been known for its gambling but used to offer a seedier experience, with small-time gambling dens crowding up against textile factories and gangs, prostitutes and money-launderers operating openly in the cobblestone streets. That was the scene in 1999 when China assumed sovereignty of Macau and opened it to outside gambling operators.

"It was a swamp," said Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands, as he looked back on his early venture in an obscure city where Chinese officials envisioned conventions and resorts. "Everybody thought that I was crazy."

Nevertheless, he and the two American competitors that tried their luck there succeeded spectacularly. Adelson's first casino opening there caused a stampede that ripped doors off their hinges. Now operating four booming casinos in Macau, he described Sands as "an Asian company" with a presence in America. He makes far more in China, a culture in which notions of luck and fate play integral roles, than in Las Vegas.

"This industry is supply-driven, like the movie 'Field of Dreams:' Build it and they will come." he said. "I believe that."

If Adelson's words and jack-o'-lantern smile suggest all is right in the globalized casino world, consider where he made these statements - on the witness stand in a Vegas courtroom this spring, defending his company against one of his former Macau consultants.

A jury in May found against Adelson, awarding the consultant $70 million for helping Sands secure a lucrative gambling license in Macau. Sands immediately appealed.

But the lawsuit may be the least of Adelson's worries. His firm is also accused of making improper payments to a Macau lawmaker and collaborating with the Chinese mafia. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating. The company says it's done nothing wrong.

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Editorial Reviews of All or Nothing

New York Times--". . . a cartographer of autodegradation . . . Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand."

Florida Book Review--". . . Allen examines the flaming abyss compulsive gambling burns in its victims’ guts, self-esteem and bank accounts, the desperate, myopic immediacy it incites, the self-destructive need it feeds on, the families and relationships it destroys. For with gamblers, it really is all or nothing. Usually nothing. Take it from a reviewer who’s been there. Allen is right on the money here."

Foreword Magazine--"Not shame, not assault, not even murder is enough reason to stop. Allen’s second novel, All or Nothing, is funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable. P’s inner dialogues illuminate the grubby tragedy of addiction, and his actions speak for the train wreck that is gambling."

Library Journal--"Told without preaching or moralizing, the facts of P's life express volumes on the destructive power of gambling. This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

LEXIS-NEXIS--"By day, P drives a school bus in Miami. But his vocation? He's a gambler who craves every opportunity to steal a few hours to play the numbers, the lottery, at the Indian casinos. Allen has a narrative voice as compelling as feeding the slots is to P." Betsy Willeford is a Miami-based freelance book reviewer. November 4, 2007

Publisher’s Weekly--"Allen’s dark and insightful novel depicts narrator P’s sobering descent into his gambling addiction . . . The well-written novel takes the reader on a chaotic ride as P chases, finds and loses fast, easy money. Allen (Churchboys and Other Sinners) reveals how addiction annihilates its victims and shows that winning isn’t always so different from losing."

Kirkus Review--"We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

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Bio


Preston L. Allen is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). His works have appeared in numerous publications including The Seattle Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Asili, Drum Voices, and Gulfstream Magazine; and he has been anthologized in Here We Are: An Anthology of South Florida Writers, Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, Miami Noir, and the forthcoming Las Vegas Noir. His fourth novel, All Or Nothing, chronicles the life of a small-time gambler who finally hits it big. Preston Allen teaches English and Creative Writing in Miami, Florida.