- Associated Press - Thursday, November 29, 2012

MACAU — In a nondescript building around the corner from the world’s biggest casino, students at the Macau Polytechnic Institute are in class.

Huddled at a long table topped with green felt, they pay close attention as their instructor writes a series of diagrams and numbers on a white board.

But this isn’t a regular math lesson.

The students sitting around the roulette table are getting schooled on how to quickly calculate payoffs for the casino game by glancing at how the chips are placed. Elsewhere in the room, the biggest mock casino in Asia, other students are playing practice hands of blackjack or learning how to run a craps table.

As many as 8,000 vocational students take courses at the institute’s Gaming Teaching and Research Center each year, while a small number of students learn casino skills as part of degree courses.

The center’s popularity attests to Macau’s rapid rise from a seedy backwater to the world’s biggest gambling market after the government ended a casino monopoly a decade ago.

Foreign operators such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. have invested billions of dollars to build glitzy resorts, annually drawing tens of millions of Chinese gamblers who have supercharged the economy.

The casino industry’s surging growth has created tens thousands of well-paying jobs, raised living standards and boosted the city’s economy.

The casino boom has been largely peaceful, in contrast to the violence that rocked the city in the 1990s, when Chinese criminal gangs known as triads fought for control of the lucrative VIP rooms.

A wave of new casino mega-resorts that are expected to open from mid-2015 will only bolster the former Portuguese colony’s standing as the world’s top gambling market.

But they also will add to the mixed blessing of a transformation that has produced a lopsided economy and society.

Property prices have surged, and inequality has widened. Some lament the embrace of materialism and the erosion of traditional community values.

Pros and cons

“I have thought of another job, but the salaries at other jobs are lower than the casinos. Now I’ve become used to this lifestyle,” said Marcos Wong, a 27-year-old VIP room supervisor at the Grand Lisboa casino who earns $2,500 a month, much more than the average wage in Macau, a special administrative region of China.

“We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so, of course, I had to study more to try to change my destiny. But to change one’s destiny, the reality is you need a lot of money,” said Mr. Wong, one of the degree students taking the roulette class.

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