Resorts World Casino is now officially opened

To be exact it opens at 12.18 noon today.

SINGAPORE: Singapore opened the first of two casino resorts Sunday, part of a multi-billion dollar bet to transform itself into a hot tourist destination and reduce the economy's reliance on manufacturing.

The casino at Resorts World Sentosa welcomed its first punter - a middle aged Singaporean woman - at the auspicious time of 12:18 pm (0418 GMT) on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

When pronounced in the Cantonese dialect, 12:18 sounds like "prosperity".

The first bettor was followed by an initial crowd of about 200 enthusiastic gamblers and within hours of the opening, hundreds more were queuing up outside. Ushers gave out free bottled water and ice cream in the sweltering tropical heat.

The opening - to be followed within months by a second casino resort built by Las Vegas Sands in Singapore's business district - is part of an ambitious plan to transform the city into a key destination for casino high-rollers, business executives and families.

"I'll probably play jackpot. I'm willing to wager around a hundred (dollars) in it," said Tiong Tak Si, 60, a retiree from Brunei.

Resorts World Sentosa, which is on Sentosa island, a former British garrison linked to the main island by bridge, is owned by Malaysian gaming giant Genting Group.

"We have waited a long time for this. Today's opening of the casino is a milestone for Resorts World Sentosa, for Genting Group and for Singapore," said group chairman Lim Kok Thay.

The construction of Resorts World Sentosa, together with the Las Vegas Sands' casino resort, Marina Bay Sands, is costing more than US$10 billion.

They will also offer visitors a range of glitzy hotels, restaurants and luxury goods shops.

Genting's casino complex includes a Universal Studios movie theme park, which it opened Sunday for sneak previews ahead of full operations.

Singapore, host to thousands of multinational corporations, is already a major travel draw because of its reputation for safety, cleanliness and efficiency, as well as man-made attractions such as top-end shopping malls.

However, it is a tiny island which lacks the white-sand beaches and breath-taking scenery found in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and the government is continually searching for new ideas to create a buzz about the city-state.

In 2008 it made sporting history when it hosted the world's first Formula One night race.

It has built the world's biggest observation wheel, the Singapore flyer, and an arts venue and has given its prime Orchard Road shopping belt a makeover.

Now it plans a landscaped area called Gardens by the Bay near the Marina Barrage built in 2008.

The city-state is aiming to get 17 million visitors a year generating more than US$21 billion by 2015, up from 9.7 million visitors last year.

Analysts expect the casino resorts to help the city meet those targets.

"There is clearly a push to add to the range and depth of attractions here and that is important for a place like this," said Robert McIntosh, an executive director with CBRE Hotels Asia Pacific, a consultancy firm.

"They (casino resorts) are a massive boost to overall tourism to Singapore," he told AFP.

CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, an independent brokerage firm, said Singapore's casinos are expected to generate revenues of US$2.1 billion this year, rising to US$3.5 billion in 2011.

Singapore in 2005 agreed to go ahead with the two casino resorts after a rare public debate.

Opponents feared gambling would threaten the city's "family values" and put it at risk of becoming a centre for money-laundering.

But the government has put in safeguards, including imposing a S$100 entrance fee for Singaporeans and permanent residents and banning anyone declared bankrupt from the casinos outright.

Last month it launched a dedicated police unit to investigate casino-related crimes.

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