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Qin City

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The Casino Lisboa in 1999, the year Macau was transferred from Portuguese to Chinese rule. The Lisboa was once a seedy place; guarded by a battalion of cops with automatic weapons, it was the stomping grounds of gangsters like Broken Tooth, who was arrested in a suite at the Lisboa's hotel in 1998. Today, however, it is a Macau icon, with a lobby filled with tourists jostling to pose next to the casino's life-sized gingerbread house. The Lisboa's transformation is representative of some of the broader changes that have taken place throughout the territory.

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Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson watches a lion dance at the opening ceremony of the Sands Cotai Central in April 2012. One turning point for Macau was the government's 2002 decision to allow foreigners to build casinos in the city. It granted six casino licenses to foreign operators -- including Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn -- and Adelson was one of the first foreigners to open a casino here.

The $5 billion Sands Cotai Central, built on marshland originally earmarked for a fireworks factory, is Las Vegas Sands Corporation's fourth casino in the booming Asian gaming capital. Last September, Adelson unveiled plans to build a scaled down replica of the Eiffel Tower as part of a new $3 billion resort.

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Residents of Macau greet the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Dec. 20, 1999, the day Portugal handed the colony over to China. In the years preceding the handover to China, Carlson writes, triad violence surged as gangs competed for "a bigger share of the pie that would be left after Portuguese power receded."

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Mainland Chinese tourists take pictures of a large display (and a mermaid) inside the City of Dreams shopping mall and casino in Macau in February 2012. In 2011, 16 million mainlanders visited Macau.

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A woman walks down a road in a poorer section of Macau in March 2012. "For locals, Macau's rapid changes have not all been positive," writes Carlson. "The flood of tourists and foreign money has driven up the price of real estate by more than 400 percent since 2004. Traffic and pollution have worsened. And residents say the government has all but ignored their concerns in the drive for breakneck economic growth." 

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Models pose during the opening ceremony for the Galaxy Macau hotel and resort in May 2011. The $1.9 billion Galaxy Macau has 450 gaming tables and more than 2,200 hotel rooms.

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A worker cleans a wall inside the Sands Cotai Central in April 2012 before the resort's official opening.

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Visitors to the Global Gaming Expo check out the latest gambling wares in Macau in June 2011.

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The main entrance to Wynn Resorts is pictured alongside a now-expanded Lisboa (right) in Macau in May 2011. U.S. casino mogul Steve Wynn has said that his gaming firm has become a Chinese company. The Chinese translation of Wynn is "eternal profits." 

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