Monday, April 18, 2005

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Sad, but almost expected at the rate things were going.

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Singapore gives nod to two casinos

By Joanne Leow/Hwee Goh, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said Singapore will have two integrated resorts with casinos.

One will be built at Marina Bayfront and the other on Sentosa island.

They will be ready and operational around 2009, after a proposal is chosen by the end of this year.

With the two integrated resorts, Singapore will attract investments in the order of $5b.

And the economy is expected to create some 35,000 jobs, including 10,000 positions within the integrated resorts themselves.

Speaking in Parliament, PM Lee said that when the casino idea was first mooted, he was personally against it.

But the environment has changed, particularly in the tourism industry.

While Singapore's tourism numbers have been increasing, its market share in the Asia Pacific region has been falling from 13.1% in 1993 to 6% in 2002.

The tourism sector in Singapore has also not kept up with the growth in the rest of the economy, with its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reduced by half -- from 6.1% in 1993 to 3% in 2002.

The Prime Minister said that realising the ideas to make Singapore a place that has buzz 'is not so easy' and that Singapore could not stand still.

He also said that Singapore could not afford to lose out in the tourism game as many jobs are at stake, even Singapore's position as an air hub.

Many cities around the world have been reinventing themselves, including New York, London and Paris, and Singapore could not stay still, noted Mr Lee.

Besides tourism and jobs, another key consideration for giving the go-ahead to the integrated casinos is the quality of the proposals received.

Those who put in the proposals have said that the resorts will be their flagship projects for Asia.

Some even preferred two projects, because this would create critical mass and attract more visitors.

This showed they were not competing for a finite local market.

They intend to grow the market by bringing in new visitors to fill their integrated resorts.

In giving the go-ahead, PM Lee also gave the assurance that the casinos would only be a small part of the integrated resorts.

"We are not aiming to become like Las Vegas or Macau, where gambling is the main industry. We will not allow casinos to sport garish displays on the facades and have jackpot machines everywhere from the lobby to the toilets. An integrated resort will be as decent and wholesome as a SAFRA resort or an NTUC Club. The gaming area will be separate," said Mr Lee.

The gaming component is expected to occupy no more than 3% or 5% of the total area of the integrated resort developments, which will also have a wide range of world-class leisure and entertainment choices.

Though gaming will be a small component, it will be an essential part of the integrated resort projects, thus making them feasible.

And because of this, there is no need for the government to give grants or subsidies to the resort operators.

Safeguards will also be put in place to 'protect' Singaporeans, like a high entrance fee for locals and no extension of credit to them.

Coming back to the integrated resorts, the one at Marina Bayfront will be at the new downtown being built in the city called Marina Bay.

The casino at this resort will be restricted to less than 3 percent of total floor area.

This resort will target those taking part in meetings, incentive tours, conventions and exhibitions market - dubbed "MICE" - and are likely to be big spenders.

The resort will be larger than Suntec City and with more retail space than Ngee Ann City on Orchard Road.

The integrated resort on Sentosa island will cater to families and be large enough even to have a whale swim around.

It will be the size of the Singapore zoo and Bird Park combined.

Gaming activities at the Sentosa integrated resort will be less than 5 percent of the development.

In announcing the decision to have the two resorts in an hour-long speech in Parliament, Mr Lee painstakingly explained how the Cabinet changed its long-standing policy against having a casino.

He said: "We cannot stand still. The whole region is on the move. If we do not change, where will we be in 20 years' time? Losing our appeal to tourists is the lesser problem. But if we become a backwater, just one of many ordinary cities in Asia, instead of being a cosmopolitan hub of the region, then many good jobs will be lost and all Singaporeans will suffer. We cannot afford that."

"After I took over as Prime Minister, the Cabinet discussed how to proceed. The public feedback showed clearly that some Singaporeans had strong views against the proposal. The Ministers themselves were evenly split. Some accepted the arguments for the integrated resorts. Others thought it sounded too good to be true. They also shared the qualms of the public about the social impact," Mr Lee added.

"They asked: are the promised spin-offs real or fluff? Are the economic benefits worth the social and law and order fallout? What safeguards can we put in to discourage Singaporeans from gambling? If we discourage Singaporean gamblers, will investors still find the project viable?"

PM Lee was skeptical too.

To get a better idea of what they were dealing with, the Cabinet asked for the full concept proposals, and the quality of the plans swayed the Cabinet.

Even so, when the Cabinet met and decided on April 9, the decision was not unanimous.

It became obvious when other Ministers spoke during Monday's parliament sitting that they had struggled with their personal convictions on the casino issue, but set these aside in the interests of Singapore.

Mr Lee said the Cabinet's split views reflected the sentiments of Singaporeans.

He acknowledged the social fallouts from having casinos and promised safeguards.

For instance, there will be a high entrance fee for locals - $100 a day or $2,000 a year.

The money will go to the Totalisator Board to be used for charity.

A system will also be set up to prevent those in financial distress or on social assistance from entering the casinos.

A National Council on Gambling will also be set up to address addiction problem and there will be programmes to treat pathological gamblers.

The government has also made clear that it will support and fund programmes to increase public education against gambling.

It will also continue to work with religious groups to help those who could be adversely affected.

Now that the decision has been made, PM Lee urged Singaporeans to move on to help make the integrated resorts a success.

Indeed, some who argued vociferously against the casinos seem likely to close ranks and accept them.

Said Fong Hoe Fang from the Family Against The Casino Threat In Singapore: "They have listened and considered the issue, yes. But it is still a shame and a pity that for 40 years we said 'no' and now we blinked. Most Singaporeans would close ranks now, it's in their nature. Still, I would expect some reactions for the next few weeks."

Bishop Robert Solomon, vice president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore, said: "We are disappointed we are going in this direction. On our own part, we need to educate members on the casinos, the dangers of gambling, and perhaps develop services and help train members to help those with gambling addiction, and promote family values." - CNA/ir

1 comment:

lagon said...

just 1 word man: excues...

well at most we get a huge swimming pool tat can put a whale inside(wth we need tat for??? Free Ah Beng - singapore version of free willie), more shopping space for the shoperholics(more SALE???) n of course more exhibition space( can double up as soccer fields or high class pasah malam).

hm... wonder wat would happen if these structures become white elephants??? the resort would close down n let ntuc take over. then we can haf 'downtown south' n 'downtown island' in addition to the 'not making money if not for the jackpot machines' downtown east!!! i m lookin forward to tat...

p.s. weird - build 2 small ones to attract more ppl. n not just 1 larger one.

p.p.s 'downtown island' sound better or 'down at sentosa' sound better???

meow...