Infrastructures of Extraction (Manila) – Casino Urbanisms

Infrastructures of Extraction (Manila) – Casino Urbanisms

The first number that appears on the casino developer’s market feasibility study is the size of the market within a 4 to 6 hour flight radius. But, at the urban level, the most visible effect of casino urbanism is often the introduction of limousines, coaches and ferries that bring customers from various locations to the casinos. These vehicles and the routes they ply everyday inscribe a geography of extraction that is further differentiated by the worth of the customers – local or foreign, mass or premium, gaming or non-gaming. In jurisdictions with multiple casino concessionaires, this geography also reveals a dynamic of competition where the vehicles from one concessionaire often bypass the properties of its competitors, even if they are next to each other. Singapore, Macau and Manila all exhibit this infrastructure of extraction, though in varying scale, density and visibility.

Three of the Integrated Resorts of Manila are located in Entertainment City, a reclaimed extension into Manila Bay, while the fourth is located next to the international airport. The coaches of the casinos in Entertainment City – Solaire, Okada and City of Dreams – generally connect to the big shopping malls owned by SM Holdings, one of the largest landlords in the Philippines. These malls already serve as transport interchanges, employment centres and social hubs, and are well served by public transport and large-volume roads. Given that Manila’s road network is very congested, and how they primarily serve the “global city” enclaves of Makati, Ortegas and Bonifacio, there are not many alternative sites and routes these large coaches can take. As shown in the map, the routes taken by these coaches keep to the few arterial roads that connect these privileged economic islands (pic 1). It also helps that the CEO of SM Holdings, Mr. Henry Sy, is one of the local partners of these casino developments.

There is one exception – one of destinations is in Binondo, the Chinatown of Manila. Expecting to be dropped off next to a shopping mall, I find myself lost in a crowded alleyway surrounded by the hustle and bustle of business. A nondescript sign on the pavement says that this is the spot to wait for coaches to the IRs. Two shops have been converted into comfortable air-conditioned waiting rooms for the customers of City of Dreams and Okada. There seems to be some effort to be discreet. The coaches that go to Binondo are more like vans with tinted windows and curtains drawn. The waiting rooms have frosted glass that makes it difficult to see whoever is inside (pic 2).

In 2016, a new highway (Skyway) was built by a private firm with close connections to the political regime which directly connected Entertainment City to the international airport (bold line in pic 1). Every Uber I take will use the Skyway when I tell them I am going to Entertainment City. Once I requested the driver to use the “normal” route. The difference is about 20 minutes, a lungful of exhaust fumes, a toll fee of XX (somewhere in my notes), and a scenery of street urchins and roadside beggars. Like the world of Bladerunner, a different world exists under the Skyway.

Resorts World Manila, which opened several years ahead of the rest next to the airport, has established many more capture points. Thanks to its local partner, Alliance Global Group which is the master franchiser of Mcdonalds in the Philippines, Resorts World Manila (RWM) runs shuttle buses to dozens of Mcdonalds branches in and outside of Manila (pic 1). I visited RWS several times, but was unable to take these buses and map out their routes – unlike the coaches offered by the Entertainment City IRs which run on a fixed schedule, one has to book these trips in advance, and show proof that one is a member of RWM. I seriously have no time to bother with such nonsense. Maybe next time.

There is a bridge connecting RWM to the airport, and the custom clearance has been reconfigured in a way which I don’t fully understand (there is a luggage scanner at the airport-end of the bridge – see pic 3). Once across the bridge, you can wait for a buggy to pick you up as if it is some kind of golf resort (pic 4). It is all rather unnecessary, since the casino is just 50 m away. But pretenses clearly has to be maintained. All these means that it is possible to fly to Manila and lodge at RWM without ever actually entering the city.

Manila Map_Entertainment City RWS and Skyway

Pic 1: Map of free shuttle routes provided by casino concessionaires, the Skyway (in bold) and Mcdonald outlets where the shuttle buses of RWM connect to.

 

COD stop in Binondo 2

Pic 2: A waiting room for customers of City of Dreams

 

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Pic 3: The runway that connects from the airport to Resorts World Manila, with its own luggage clearance facilities.

 

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Pic 4: What awaits you at the end of the runway – brochures and a buggy.

 

 

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Author: Jennifer Martin