budak was looking at the New Paper's headline today (on some pub drink that had to be renamed from Erotic to Exotic for its Singapore launch) and this suppressed idea came back to mind (by some coincidence I had just mentioned it to mrs budak over a wine-drenched lunch). Last year, I was scheduled to visit Las Vegas (purely for work purposes – in fact, nearly all my travels are for business), and had all my visas and bookings firmed up. The trip was cancelled at the last minute as a sudden call to gay Paree proved more enticing, both professionally and privately. I must say the prospect of spending a week in the scorching Nevada desert surrounded by latticed showgirls and one-armed bandits was not a particularly appealing idea to me, and it was a mixed relief to have to let L fly alone to the Strip while I
lounged slaved by the Seine.
I had noted that the hotel L had booked offered the nightly diversion of a risqué opus by Cirque du Suleil. While doing my research on things to do after-hours besides belching by the Bellagio, a number of articles emerged which spoke of a not-unrecent attempt by the city to reposition itself as a 'family' destination in response to a blip dip in visitor numbers. Maybe they figured that the city could turn itself into a place where pop plays a pack while mom maxes her Visa and sonny
screams spews his guts out in the Stratosphere. 'Disney on Dice', however, proved to be no magic kingdom, and in a collective disavowal of fake virtue, the city's joints are once again touting the treat of unabashed hedonism with the scintillating slogan: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". As one consultant put it, "Las Vegas being a family destination is absolutely terrible for us in
terms of setting ourselves apart from the competition. We needed a
campaign that would once again give adults a sense that they can create
their own experience here."
A cursory survey of gaming capitals like Las Vegas, Macao and Monte Carlo suggests that besides the draw of the die, visitors who chose such spots for conventions or carousing (or both) are usually not in the mood to play safe, be it on the baccarat board or the hotel bed. Taking one's chances with lady luck is of course a prime motivation, but the possibility of dalliances with other lasses and suitably mood-enhancing diversions are also part of the package offered by metropoles which frown not, but even expect guests to partake in experiences unfulfillable back in the old watering hole.
I don't recall reading any commentary on Las Vegas's movement back to the bawdy basics in the Straits Times, although the Business Times, speaking to a presumably less morally repugnable audience, has published a telling perspective on the business of good, dirty fun. Here, Neptune's coy display of bare-boobs is a semi-state secret, while the alleys of Geylang and Joo Chiat seem a tad incongruent with the expectations of besuited middle managers fresh from a day's worth of expositions.
Notwithstanding the republic's not unwise decision to hedge by having a family resort in Sentosa and a MICE centre in Marina, one wonders if the planned array of "convention facilities, retail and dining, entertainment shows, themed attractions" and a wee little casino corner would be sufficient to shift the minds of event organisers and corporate retreat planners from sites such as Bangkok and Bali, both of which offer first-class MICE facilities as well as sensations that appeal to the senses, albeit in somewhat different ways. And besides, every dollar of baht or rupiah goes a far longer way than our currency basket of managed weights. What's fun may lie in the eye of the beholder, but it's hard to see the mere presence of a pair of strait-laced gaming centres as the fulcrum that tips Singapore into the pit of pleasure for part-time players and philanderers. Doubtless an unofficial supporting cast of personal service providers will emerge to cater to those needs of gamblers unmet by chips and cheques (and surely winners would want to celebrate their takings, while modest losers would seek solace in company that soothes their ruffled fortunes). But in a polity where bar-top dancing is the acme of free expression and the very idea of a casino a sparkplug for social polarisation, would the authorities dare counternance the thought of permitting activities, even pricey and 'artistic' ones, aimed squarely at consenting adults and 'mature' tastes. Or would this be deemed to risky a venture for a state that has bet its moral credibility on its guardianship of family values and championing of squeaky-white uprightness?