Singapore’s first casino may open CNY weekend

SINGAPORE: Singapore is set to open its first casino as early as this weekend, the city-state’s latest roll of the dice in its efforts to turn from a staid manufacturing hub to an Asian playground for the rich.

The opening of the Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) by Genting Singapore may be timed to coincide with the Lunar New Year holiday to attract thousands of overseas and mainland Chinese to the island, industry sources and analysts said.

Genting, a unit of Malaysia’s Genting Bhd, declined to confirm the opening date, after the government granted Genting a licence to operate the casino last Saturday, earlier than an expected March or April start and ahead of Las Vegas Sands’ rival Singapore casino.

“The early opening ahead of Marina Bay Sands will be positive as it allows RWS to reap the full benefits of a monopoly during the typically peak Chinese New Year festive season,” said Keith Wee, an analyst at OSK Research in Kuala Lumpur.

Genting shares rose as much as 5.4% or its biggest gain more than a month when trading opened on Feb 8, making it the most actively traded stock on the Singapore bourse, but it lost gains to close 1.8% lower.

Deutsche Bank in a report on Feb 8 forecast it would make S$1.7 billion (RM4.1 billion) of gross gaming revenue in its first year, but warned that after recent new casino openings in Macau share prices corrected on four occasions between 11% and 29% within one to two months.

Singapore is gambling on casinos to increase its tourism revenues and lead to spin-offs such as luxury services and increased business for wealth managers in its financial centre.

Known for shopping malls, efficiency and staid social engineering, it is already home to the highest density of millionaries in the world, and the casinos will add to the glamour from a Formula One night street race.

The Straits Times reported yesterday that Genting had told staff and tenants that the casino and associated Universal Studios theme park at its Resorts World at Sentosa casino-resort would open this week.

Resorts World at Sentosa spokesman Robin Goh declined to confirm, saying: “We are still on track for the soft opening in the first quarter of 2010.”

In January, the firm opened four of its six hotels as well as some shops and food outlets, while casino staff were trained by roleplaying as clients and croupiers.

A few visitors were allowed to try the rides at Universal Studios, alongside Genting staff, indicating the firm was ready to open the park, said the marketing head of a mobile phone firm who was part of a group touring the Resorts World last month.

“The smoking section had been “smoked in” already to help the smokers feel right at home,” a Singapore-based banker, who brought his Malaysian and Singaporean fund manager clients to visit the resort last week, told Reuters.

Singapore legalised casino gambling in 2005 and said it will allow two casino-resorts to be built as part of ambitious plans to double visitor arrivals to 17 million by 2015.

The city-state’s other casino-resort, Las Vegas Sands’ US$5.5 billion (RM19 billion) Marina Bay Sands, is scheduled to begin its phased opening in April, although many analysts doubt if the firm can meet the target date.

Casino operators in Singapore will pay an effective tax of around 12% on net revenue from gamblers, giving them an incentive to draw Asian high rollers away from Macau where the tax is just under 40%.

Each integrated resort is expected to contribute a value add of S$2.7 billion to Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, Singapore’s tourism promotion agency estimates, roughly between 0.5% and 1% of GDP. — Reuters
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