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Travelers are flocking to Australia to do more than pet a kangaroo or snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Apparently the majority of tourists are going Down Under to scream "Winner, winner, Chicken Dinner!" Yeah, we're talking about placing big bets.
Gambling and casinos are legal in Australia and the pastime has become part of the fabric of the culture. Think of it as a smaller-scaled Vegas, but an entire country. Just like their counterparts in the US desert, many casinos in Oz are mega-resorts that attract the entire family, but with areas dedicated to high-rollers wanting more than the thrill of winning (or losing).
Marina Bay Sands Casino
Singapore is angling to attract more and more mainstream tourists, what with the new Universal Studios Singapore and an airport that boasts a sick-looking four-story slide. Heck, we found out last night that even this season's Top Chef cheftestants are traveling to the Southeastern Asian country for the show's finale. But who knew that Singapore had a booming casino scene?
The casinos are getting credit for helping the country surpass the 1 million tourists mark in one month for the first time in July, according to AFP. And tourism officials hope to see up to 12.5 million people visit Singapore this year.
It seems like only yesterday that communities across the United States were clamoring for casinos, anxious for the boost in employment and tax revenue that they seemed to promise. Today, it's a different story. In the latest case of NIMBY (not in my backyard), state and city officials are pushing for a 3,000-slot-machine casino to be built at the edge of Philadelphia's small but vibrant Chinatown area, a move that has many residents hopping mad. The developers of Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia say that the project would revitalize a long-neglected area a half block south of Chinatown, helping rather than hurting local businesses. Opponents of the casino, however, fear that having a gambling den so close to home would exacerbate the problem of compulsive gambling, which has caused great damage in the Asian-American community in recent years. The Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, for example, estimated that nearly a third of its 40,000 daily customers were Asian, a far higher ratio than seen in the general population. We're not opposed to casinos on moral grounds - people are free to do dumb things with their money if they like - but we do feel like they put up a bit of a false front. Take any casino in Atlantic City, for example. Based on the advertisements, you'd expect to see James Bond wearing a tuxedo and playing baccarat. What you get instead are obese guys wearing sweatpants and oxygen tank-toting grannies on Rascal scooters feeding quarters into slot machines until their eyes glaze over. It's not a pretty picture. But things aren't looking good for Chinatown, as the City Council recently dedicated the area an entertainment district, paving the way for construction to begin. Until it's built, though, residents can always gamble away their life savings in the stock market.
We're not surprised to learn that in Singapore--the country that totally banned chewing gum until 2004--it's not that easy to find a place to gamble. It's not illegal, but there aren't any casinos, so that makes it tricky, although come 2009 they're planning to open their first.
Until then, you have to find your own way to have some blackjack fun, but the way of the Senegalese Consulate is not the one we recommend. This week the ex-honorary consul of Senegal was jailed for two months for allowing his office in Singapore to be used as a gambling den.
Big money was changing hands at the consulate casino and perhaps it's a good thing that Singapore will get a real casino soon; we figure the cocktails available from the Senegalese Consulate probably weren't up to par.
The first of two recently-licensed casinos will open next year and the other in 2010. Lucky for the consul, he'll definitely be out of jail by then.
[Photo of coming casino site: Singapor3]
As if Bangkok's nightlife didn't already provide enough outlets for vice, Thailand's interior minister is pushing for the legalization of casinos in the country. Let's see: prostitution, cheap eats, gambling... sounds familiar.
The minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, received the backing of the Prime Minister on the issue over the weekend. Critics have railed against the move, saying it will add to the primarily Buddhist country's societal ills. In response Chalerm has pointed to Malaysia, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, as a successful model of a how casinos can fit in a religious nation.
While we love a good poker game, this doesn't sound like a great idea. Thailand's spiritual heritage and modern distractions have coexisted in a balance for years--this might really tip the scales, and we can already envision the tourist throngs flocking to Buddha-themed gambling halls. Paging Max Gogarty...
And you thought premiere season was over! There are two premieres left before the onslaught of midseason replacements, one of which (ABC's "Sex and the City" retread "Cashmere Mafia") debuts after Thanksgiving. The other, the musical casino story "Viva Laughlin," previews tomorrow night before moving to its regular timeslot, Sunday nights at 8PM.
In "Viva Laughlin," a businessman chases his dream of opening his own casino in Laughlin, Nevada, 100 miles south of Las Vegas. (The show's based on a BBC series set in Blackpool, a seaside town in northwest England.) Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen) won't let anything stand in his way, not even the fact that people around him are breaking into song and dance. Even if he has to ask rival casino owner Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman, also a producer of the show) for help, he's going to be a success--or else.
Despite its title, "Viva Laughlin" films partly in Los Angeles and partly in Cabazon, California, at the Morongo Casino Resort. Unfortunately, the casino might be closing early; "Viva Laughlin" has gotten terrible reviews (it was even named the worst show of the fall by AOL, which apparently didn't hear about "Cavemen"). But while it lasts, the Morongo gets a free ad, and Jackman fans get to see him perform a role very different from Wolverine.
Our TV Premiere Map has the shows the networks are gambling on.