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Apocalypse now

Sheldon Adelson's EuroVegas would be another lawless town, albeit in a velvet wrapping

My friend José sets his alarm clock at random hours, jumps out of bed and leaves the house on the run. It’s more like a senile trot, but he calls it a run. It’s a training run for the Day of God’s Wrath. Lacking a nuclear bomb shelter, he heads for the nearest Metro station. People look on in alarm, as they see this old bearded geezer hot-footing it down the Metro stairs, carrying a supply of food and water. José watches too much television, and last week he saw an American paranoia show about the global apocalypse that will happen, when an asteroid like the one that wasted the dinosaurs hits New York. (The program included instructions on how to build an underground bunker for the occasion.)

Then he turns to another nightmare: the repugnant degradation of the regional authorities in Madrid and Barcelona, in the face of a man, Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who seems to have stepped out of a Scorsese movie.

Las Barranquillas is a shantytown in an outlying district of our city, where Madrid’s junkies go to get their fix. The police tolerate its existence; indeed, they seldom show their faces there. It’s a lawless town.

The grand casino project proposed by Sheldon Adelson is called EuroVegas, but José calls it Las Barranquillas De Luxe — because EuroVegas would be another lawless town, albeit in a velvet wrapping.

Adelson wants it to be an enclave where a considerable number of our laws — concerning employment without work permits, underage gambling, maximum betting limits, indoor smoking, prostitution and quite a few other things generally considered objectionable — would not apply. Oh, and public land granted to him for free as well.

Once you implant the principle of an exceptional enclave where the laws of the nation do not apply, the contagion will extend like the shock wave from the asteroid. They offer us hotels and golf courses, much like the Spaniards offered trinkets to the Indians when Columbus got off the boat.

The reality will be casinos and more casinos, 18,000 slot machines, and more than 30 laws, most of which are there for good reasons, circumvented at the stroke of a pen. So we hear, at least. Because Madrid’s regional premier, Esperanza Aguirre, is keeping the negotiations secret, as if it were a family business. Discretion is desirable, if the world’s compulsive gamblers are to make our city their gathering place.

And not just gamblers. Spain could have a bright future as a land of cheap outsourcing. Bring on the casinos from Macao, the clothing factories from Thailand, India and Cambodia, at the same sort of wages that are commonly earned in those places. The right wing in Spain, as represented by Esperanza Aguirre, would surely raise no objection to that proposition. Lots of young Spanish engineers could find useful employment at 300 euros a month, for a 12-hour day. It’s important to keep the young busy, and the old too. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

José does not think this beyond the bounds of possibility. He points out that one neoliberal apostle of “economic freedom” recently proposed that a good way out of the crisis would be for Spain to become a tax haven (as if it wasn’t already, for some of us at least).

Having written about enough to fill this opinion space, this brings us back to the beginning. José, as you will have guessed, is not really a victim of senile dementia. He does not really run out at odd hours and take refuge in an underground tunnel. It’s just a thing he daydreams of doing, should apocalyptic disaster strike our city.

He knows perfectly well that the chance of the asteroid hitting is exceedingly remote. As for Sheldon Adelson, Esperanza Aguirre and EuroVegas, he’s not so sure.

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