The Production of “Monaco” and “Las Vegas” as Sites of (Un)Moral Economies

Paul Franke (completed PhD Project, 2019)

The consideration of gambling as an immoral activity has a long history. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century it was associated with drinking, stealing and violent behavior, and was in many ways seen as a sin. However, certain places, Monaco and Las Vegas in particular, forged images that allowed the gambling industry to work around the perception of gambling as sinful.

The project aims at analyzing the historical development of Monaco and Las Vegas from the second half of the nineteenth until the late twentieth century, tracing the ways in which the two cities produced a morally acceptable climate for engaging in an otherwise disparaged practice. It combines urban, media and economic history, as well sociological approaches to answer the question why and how exactly these places have become iconic hubs for gambling tourism in the Western world. In order to understand the way in which these gambling cities were established, the project will analyze the way the gambling industry has constructed spaces and images fostering singular type of consumption experience. The project thus engages the following questions: How were the two cities linked with specific promises of consumption? Who were the initiators and what goals did they have? Which conflicts occurred between different groups during this process, especially in regard to the moral legitimacy of gambling?

The concept of Moral Economies can shed light on how different actors in Monaco and Las Vegas were able to construct a setting that shifted public perspective on the negatively connotated activity of gambling. This in turn helped bring about an alternative "Moral Economy", which allowed both the business and its customers to justify themselves and their actions. "Gambling Cities" did not fully change the views on what a morally good industry is or on gambling as a whole, but they were successful in lifting, or at least weakening the stigma associated with gambling. These new possibilities of justification and consumption experience co-existed with the belief that casinos remained gathering points of deviance within urban life if placed outside the special environments of Monaco or Las Vegas.

The project will offer insights into the historical process of the production of urban space as a consumable good, the history of gambling as well as urban-branding and the emergence of alternative moral economies in the modern period.

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