Singapore gambles on casinos to boost tourism

By Bernice Han (AFP) – 12 hours ago

SINGAPORE — Singapore opens the first of two casinos on Sunday as part of a campaign to attract millions of new tourists, but the rich city-state is not touting itself as a rival to glitzy Macau or Las Vegas.

Resorts World Sentosa, owned by Malaysian gaming giant Genting, will also feature Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios movie theme park.

The second casino complex, Marina Bay Sands, is currently being completed by US-based Las Vegas Sands and is expected to open in April.

Officials hope the casinos will help Singapore achieve its target of 17 million visitors a year generating over 21 billion US dollars by 2015, boosting the services sector and reducing the role of manufacturing in the economy.

Visitor arrivals fell to 9.7 million visitors in 2009, down 4.3 percent from 2008, but a surge in the final quarter of last year boosted the tourism industry's hopes that 2010 numbers will be better.

The arrival numbers include tourists using the island city-state as a jumpoff point to other Asian destinations.

Singapore hopes tourists will stay a little longer -- and spend a lot more -- as a result of the casino resorts.

Resorts World Sentosa is aimed at families, while Marina Bay Sands, located next to the banking district, is designed to cater to the corporate and convention crowd.

"Singapore's new casinos open up Southeast Asia as an entirely new market for multiple-billion dollar integrated entertainment," Jonathan Galaviz, an independent gaming industry analyst based in Las Vegas, told AFP.

A marine life park, a maritime museum, a spa and two more hotels will be launched at Resorts World Sentosa after 2010.

Singapore gave the green light for casino gambling in 2005, setting off a flurry of construction that went ahead despite the city-state slipping into recession in 2008 due to the impact of the global crisis.

The two "integrated resorts" will cost a total of over 10 billion dollars to build.

Unlike larger neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, highly urbanised Singapore has no major natural destinations to offer and relies on man-made attractions such as shopping malls and wildlife parks to pull in tourists.

Galaviz said the Singapore casino resorts are not expected to compete "substantially" with gambling-driven Macau because the resorts are pitched at visitors who prioritise entertainment over gambling.

The success of Singapore's casino resorts will be measured by how the attractions outside of the gaming rooms perform, he added.

"It's important for everybody to remember that more than 90 percent of (Singapore resorts' facilities) have nothing to do with casino gaming," he said.

"The more important metric to gauge the ultimate success of the (resorts) will be the non-casino revenue such as hotel rooms, retail, and restaurants."

Galaviz says Singapore's gaming market is expected to generate revenues of two billion dollars annually, which will be significantly lower than what Singapore residents already spend annually in legal gaming.

Figures from Singapore Totalisator Board, the city-state's sole legal betting operator, showed 5.77 billion dollars were wagered on horse racing, football matches, among others, in the year to March 2009.

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