Why Singapore is seen as the model for Japan’s casino gamble

20-Dec-2016 Intellasia | SCMP | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Despite being one of the world’s top casino gambling destinations, Singapore is a mere shadow of Macau or Las Vegas, with its only two casinos tucked away inconspicuously in sprawling resort facilities meant to beckon residents with other delights rather than betting.

The Singapore model of casinos as part of integrated resorts has been closely studied by Japan, with several Japanese government officials visiting the city state in recent years, ahead of the Japanese parliament enacting a law on Thursday to legalise casino gambling in the country.

The wealthy but strait-laced island nation broke with its Asian conservatism to allow the first two casinos to be established in 2010 as part of so-called integrated resorts – the Marina Bay Sands downtown and the Resorts World Sentosa on Sentosa Island, off southern Singapore.

In doing so, it took a highly regulated, calibrated approach that tried to find a balance between the need to stay ahead of the competition as a tourist destination while also introducing safeguards to shelter the local population from the social ills of gambling.

“Many governments like Japan want to study the Singapore model, maybe [because] we have effectively pioneered one in which we are able to extract the maximum benefits of casino gaming and yet minimising the downside, minimising because you can’t run away from the fact that there will be social disamenities,” said Eugene Tan, associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University.

From the beginning, the government did not envision Singapore becoming another Las Vegas or Macau. As Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said in 2005 when he announced the cabinet’s decision to allow casinos: “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 neon displays on the facades and have jackpot machines everywhere.”

The government made clear that casinos would have to be part of integrated resorts, and should occupy less than 3 per cent of the total area of the resort.

At the Marina Bay Sands in the business district, the casino is cloistered in a huge complex dominated by an exhibition and convention centre and a shopping mall, facing the three imposing 55-storey towers of a 2,600 room luxury hotel, linked at the rooftop by the Sands SkyPark – itself an architectural feat.

Its gleaming casino has four floors with about 160,000 square feet of gaming space and about 610 table games and 2,500 slot machines.

Currently, the chips are down for casinos around the world, including those in Singapore, due partly to a corruption crackdown in China that is deterring high rollers and a protracted global economic slowdown, as well as competition from other Asian rivals.

Despite this, Singapore’s two casinos have not only become big money spinners for the operators of the resorts, contributing about three quarters of their earnings for each of them, but also for the Singapore economy.

Visitor arrivals numbers to the city state jumped from 9.7 million in 2009 to 15.6 million in 2013, and stood at 15.2 million last year, according to data from Singapore’s Department of Statistics. Tourist receipts jumped from S$12.8 billion (US$8.8 billion) in 2009 to S$22 billion last year.

Together, the two resorts accounted for between 1.5 and 2 per cent of Singapore’s economy and created more than 20,000 jobs. However, there is also a dark side to casino gambling.

The government knew of its negative effects on society and so, from the beginning, the casinos had been designed to attract foreign visitors while regulations were enacted to discourage locals from gambling at the casinos.

The entrances of Singapore’s casinos, which operate 24 hours daily, must offer different lanes that separate foreigners and locals. Foreigners enter without hassle but residents must pay a S$100 entry levy or a S$2000 annual entry levy. Inside, there are closed-circuit cameras everywhere.

There is also a system of exclusions, by which those in dire financial difficulties can be blacklisted and barred from entering the casinos. People can also apply to bar themselves or their family members from the casinos.

However, there are still people who get trapped by gambling addiction or bad debts because of gambling.

A 78-year-old retired Singaporean engineer said he lost S$200,000 of his savings within a year at Singapore’s two casinos, and then began to borrow money from illegal money lenders to feed his addiction, and soon found himself with a mountain of debts he could not settle. In desperation, he finally sought help from one the voluntary groups that have appeared in Singapore to help people like him. He applied to exclude himself from the casinos and has not visited one since.

“The Japanese government should not let local people go to casinos,” he said when asked what he thought of the Japanese government’s plan to allow casino gambling for the first time in Japan. “It is better to allow only foreigners in. If you allow local people in, many people will become bankrupt and commit suicide.”



Category: Singapore

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