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Controlled casino gambling in Singapore will positively impact their economy, strengthen their social culture, and benefit other countries as well. Singapore announced 18 April, 2005 that it would allow construction of a pair of Las Vegas-style casinos, giving two gaming operators a potential for a significant revenue jump by the end of the decade (Rahil 18). The fact that the famously conservative Singaporean government is allowing its first ever casino, proves the gambling industry is hot indeed. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans for a casino resort, hoping to cash in on the wildfire expansion of gambling around Asia.
The Prime Minister revealed the government’s decision to end a four decades-long ban on casino gaming in an address to Parliament after months of mulling the economic pros and social cons of gambling (Rosa 10).
The announcement reflects a cultural sea-change: whereas gambling and casinos were once widely frowned upon, today they are fast-growing, both in terms of social acceptability and industry-wide revenues.
While Las Vegas continues to see visitor numbers ever expand, and the UK government plans to greatly liberalize Britain’s casino industry, Singapore is the latest country to consider placing a bet on boosting its gambling revenues. In terms of geographical position it is in exactly the right place, with most gambling industry analysts seeing the Far East as the biggest growth area of all, driven in the main by the Chinese. Gambling remains illegal in mainland China, sending risk-hungry clients overseas (Eadington and Cornelius 203).
At present, Chinese people who wish to gamble legally mainly visit Macau, the former Portuguese colony on the Chinese coast west of Hong Kong, which has long been a gambling magnet.
Add casinos in other countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Cambodia, and Asia’s legal gambling industry is valued at about $14 billion a year (Rosa 10). You can bet your bottom dollar that Singapore is now thinking that it will like its share of this rather lucrative pie. Singapore doubtless has its charms. It is a city brimming with life; a small island of less than 700 square kilometers, with a population of four million, and a city that boasts of an annual tourist arrival of eight million plus–more than double its population. Tourism accounts for at least five percent of the economy in Singapore, a number that economists say understates the importance of the industry to the part of its economy that is not involved with foreign trade (Hutchinson, Mellor, and Olsen 64).
Despite its long and colorful history as a regional trading center, Singapore is short on conventional tourist sites like ancient temples or historic quarters. Singapore has succeeded in turning itself into a regional hub for air travel, but tourists are spending less time on average in Singapore, using it instead as a staging ground for forays around Southeast Asia. With Singapore wishing to move its economy more towards the service sector, as its manufacturing base continues to be hit by fast-growing Chinese competition, a shiny new casino could help boost tourist numbers (66). “If gambling is one of the things tourists want to do, then maybe we should allow them to do that, find some way to do that, and as a result of that over 10 years double the tourist traffic volume.” said Prime Minister Lee. Such a casino would also help Singapore recover much of the $180 million a year it is estimated that Singaporeans spend each year in neighboring Malaysian casinos (Rahil 18).
Economists say the casinos are likely to bring direct, tangible results. A report by Merrill Lynch estimated that a single casino would cost roughly $2 billion to build and would generate about $2.1 billion a year in revenue, about a third of it from foreign visitors. The projects would help the construction and tourism industries, it predicted, including shops and hotels. This would contribute an additional $865,000 a year to government tax revenue (Greenless 41). Both projects, will be five minutes by car from the central business district: one as part of a resort with other attractions on the island of Sentosa, with the other near downtown at Marina Bay on Singapore’s main island (Rahil 18).
Wall Street gaming analysts have speculated the casinos in the Singapore market could exceed $1.5 billion in annual revenues based on Asia’s population and plans by the government to double its tourism numbers to 17 million visitors a year and triple the annual tourist spending to $18 billion (Hutchinson, Mellor, and Olsen 66). Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Marc Falcone said: “Asia remains one of the most significant growth opportunities in gaming throughout the world, buoyed by a large population, increasing wealth, and with a huge propensity to gamble.” Falcone said the tax rate being proposed by the Singapore government is reasonable based on the location. “The tax rate could be 15 percent, lower than Macau (40 percent) but about double Nevada,” Falcone said. “Considering the Singapore opportunity could be a monopoly, the tax rate is actually quite attractive and could result in an overall larger market size.” Singapore leaders predict the casino projects would create 35,000 jobs and would also keep Singapore residents from gambling hundreds of millions of dollars annually in such destinations as Macau and Perth, Australia (Rahil 18).
Singapore has received nearly 20 proposals from international and Las Vegas-based gambling giants angling to build a casino in Southeast Asia’s most prosperous country. Bidders include Wynn Resorts Ltd., Harrah’s Entertainment, MGM Mirage Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Kerzner International Itd. The gaming companies submitted conceptual plans for the gaming sites, which also included integrated resort elements, including hotels, convention space, restaurants and other amenities. Singapore is expected to seek full-blown proposals from the companies and decide on the operators by the end of 2005. The casinos are expected to be operating by 2009 (Nee 1). The front-runner for either casino is not clear but MGM Mirage’s partnership with CapitaLand, a government development entity for the Marina site, could give the company an edge. MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the company could be helped by its partnership. “We are impressed with the government’s professionalism in the handling of this matter, and we are very much looking forward to the continuation of the selection process,” Feldman said. In a statement, Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner said the company intends to follow through with its conceptual proposal for Marina location that includes a Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, cruise ship terminal and monorail. “We remain deeply committed to building a destination resort of which all Singaporeans will be proud,” Weidner said. Harrah’s submitted proposals for both locations with Keppel Land Ltd., a Singapore developer. In a joint statement, the companies said they believe the government has made the correct decision, one that will expand Singapore’s tourism economy (1).
The casinos are a startling breakthrough, a major social change in the law-and-order city. Singapore has built a reputation not only for being tough on corruption but for being preoccupied with social reengineering to improve collective discipline and personal character. Singapore’s Cabinet has encouraged citizens to speak up on the casino plan, triggering lively exchanges in the media, on Internet chat sites, in offices and homes. For a while Singaporeans appeared to be split evenly in the debate–unusual in that Singaporeans so rarely challenge their government’s plans (1). In the press conference announcing the lift of the Singapore casino-ban, “The ministers themselves were evenly split,” Prime Minister Lee said. “They also shared the qualms of the public about the social impact.” Lee cited efforts by some of the world’s great cities to reinvent themselves with transportation, cultural and other development projects. In his address to parliament, he warned that Singapore could become an Asian “backwater” unless it competes with its neighbors. “In Asia, Shanghai is full of drive and energy. Hong Kong is opening its Disneyland, Hong Kong is also talking about opening a casino to compete with Macau,” Lee said. “Will Singapore be part of this new world, or will we will bypassed and left behind?” said Lee, whose father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was instrumental in shaping Singapore’s development since independence in 1965. “We want Singapore to have the Xfactor, that buzz that you get in London, Paris or New York.”
The development of the two casinos, will draw tourists who otherwise go to casino resorts in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, where Singaporeans themselves already spend about $340 million annually. That concerns many community and religious leaders who, despite the government’s aim to attract more visitors, worry about the social cost legalized gaming could have on their communities. According to a survey done by US consultants, the Innovation Group, Singaporeans spend nearly $1 billion a year in overseas casinos (Hutchinson, Mellor, and Olsen 65). Both Christian and Muslim groups have already expressed their concern, warning that any casino would fuel gambling addiction, crime and inflict social ills in what is one of Asia’s safest societies. Prime Minister Lee also touched upon the religious aspect of the casino debate, in response to people objecting on religious grounds that no economic benefit justifies allowing casinos. Singapore is a secular government which has to consider both the economic benefits and social fallout — “what serves our national interest in the long term.” He closed the conference with this, I am confident that despite this difference in perspectives, the religious groups will continue to work for the greater good of Singapore, in the context of our multi-racial, multi-religious society, with tolerance, compassion and mutual respect. Religious faith is a powerful force motivating Singaporeans to help their fellow citizens, not just gambling addicts, but everyone who is in need of help. I particularly hope that the religious groups will work together with the govern to help to build strong families, which are the basic units of an resilient and stable society.
The government has said it will take safeguards to protect the public against the social ills of casino gambling. These include restricting access to rich Singaporeans who can afford to gamble and even building a treatment facility for gambling addiction. Casinos, tobacco companies, will not be allowed to advertise locally. Meanwhile, some of Singapore’s avid gamblers are up in arms at plans to limit casino access to only the wealthy, with proposals to literally ban people on low incomes. Legalizing casinos will teach Singaporeans to regard gambling as a wholesome form of entertainment instead of closing their eyes to gaming. They should add casino gambling to the list of their amusements. That’s the way members of a mature society should look at casino gambling. This is in contrast to an immature society in which people tend to prohibit whatever they may see as potentially detrimental to their life (Hutchinson, Mellor, and Olsen 67). Casino gambling is the largest step Singapore has taken to culturally mature themselves.
In a Channel News Asia interview Ho Peng Kee, Singapore’s Minister of Police, touched on the downsides of casino gambling, “tangible minuses like an increase in problem gambling and broken families, and intangible losses like the impact on Singapore’s brand name and social values.” He also touched upon the law enforcement and general implications (organized crime, loan sharks, and money laundering of the future casinos:
In the past, we could keep Singaporeans insulated from sin
and temptation, up to a point, by not allowing undesirable
activities in Singapore. It made sense to say no to a
casino, because it was not so easy for people to travel to
Macao, and not many could afford to go to Las Vegas or
Europe. But today the situation is different. Singaporeans
make more than four million overseas trips by air and sea a
year. What is not available in Singapore is all around us.
With or without an integrated resort, we must work harder to
keep our values intact, but we cannot do so by cocooning
ourselves. We have to open the windows, breathe in the
fresh air, and at the same time fight the flies and insects.
Legalized casino gambling would strip organized crime organizations of a massive revenue source– money from underground casinos. This will in-turn reduce other crimes related to the illegal operation of gambling facilities (Hutchinson, Mellor, and Olsen 68).
The advent of legalized gambling will produce localized benefits to Singapore in the form of new and better jobs, increased purchasing power, and social support facilities (such as schools and hospitals). Singapore legalizing casinos could be the catalyst for other Asian countries to relax restrictions on gambling. Spying an opportunity, Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan may follow suit. Even India and Indonesia have floated the idea of Vegas-style casinos to draw tourists and create jobs (Hutchinson, Mellor, and Olsen). For many, the ultimate prize is China, where would-be gamblers, faced with a ban at home, travel far and wide to bet their newfound riches. Untaxed and unregulated gambling is already rife in Asia, from cock-fighting bouts and horse races, to lotteries and card games. Proponents of gambling say the attraction of licensed casinos is the ability to tax and control, as well as choke off underground betting (Eadington and Cornelius 204).
Tempted by predictions from industry experts that Asians will spend $23 billion a year on gambling by 2010, governments are becoming less concerned about the social ills that critics say are caused by casinos (Nee 1). Now that Singapore has opened up to casinos, a lot of the other countries are going to watch and open up with them. The announcement is good news for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., which has been fending off criticisms that the Philippine government is actively promoting gambling among Filipinos and eyeing to make Manila the Las Vegas of the East (Rosa 10). Singapore’s decision will help change the way casinos are perceived. For one, new casinos are typically part of a bigger integrated development, with the emphasis on providing luxury accommodation and a host of other entertainment experiences–it’s not just about slot machines and table games. It started with Macau coming in and proving that gambling in Asia can be done in a very big way. Now a lot of the countries in Asia are looking at it as an opportunity for tourism, taking an offensive position to casino gambling.
Information technology firms and companies worldwide offering functional solutions for casino operators will hit the jackpot once the two integrated resorts come up in Singapore. New computer and communications technology like radio frequency identification are increasingly entering the casino business. A typical Las Vegas casino would have between $5 and $15 million worth of information technology embedded in its slot machines, surveillance systems, ambience, lighting and atmosphere control equipment, jackpots, fraud-prevention systems, and back-end data processing, reconciliation, and mirroring systems (Greenless 278). Singapore’s plan to set up two integrated resorts with casinos will attract information technology businesses worldwide, increasing the market value of information technology stock internationally (Toh 29).
Singapore’s plan to build the country’s first casino underscores its strategy to create a new economy amid stiff competition from China and other Southeast Asian countries. The government has received 20 proposals from bidders all over the world since inviting companies to submit their concept plans to build an integrated resort that include a casino. Controlled casino gambling will diversify Singapore’s economy, which has been largely based on high-tech manufacturing and financial services, by promoting new areas of growth or expanding those with more potential for growth such as tourism. It will decrease organized crime in Singapore and will evolve citizens to control their own morality vice having the government do it for them. Legalized Gambling in Singapore will pave the way for other Asian countries to accept controlled gaming themselves, and will positively impact information technology stock internationally. Casinos will benefit Singapore economically, especially the city-state’s tourism sector, while advancing there social culture and promoting other countries.
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