S’pore could have more than two IRs: MM Lee

He notes greater progression towards gaming revenue in Asia.

SINGAPORE has not ruled out the possibility of having more than two integrated resorts (IRs) in the future.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said here on Saturday that there was “an inevitable progression” throughout most of Asia towards gaming revenue, and that Singapore would see how the current plan worked out before deciding what to do next.

“Let’s wait and see,” he said. “Every move like this is a bet on the future. We decided to make the bet. We didn’t expect the operators to make such bets on us.”

He said that if there is a surge in the casino industry as well as in the business convention and exhibitions travel sector, there would be suggestions from casino operators who failed to get in on the first two bids to open further bids.

The government has promised 10 years of exclusivity for the two operators from the date of awarding the contract so that the bidders find it attractive enough to pour in their money.

Singapore legalised casino gaming last year and said it would allow two integrated resorts to be built in a bid to lure regional tourists and boost its services sector.

The first licence was awarded in May this year to Las Vegas Sands Corp. The casino resort – a landmark waterfront project in Marina Bay – is expected to be operating in late 2009.

Three bids have been tabled for a second IR project on Sentosa island. Malaysia’s Genting is up against US-based Eighth Wonder and the Kerzner CapitaLand consortium for the Sentosa project.

The winner will be announced by the end of the year.

The Minister Mentor, who visited Las Vegas on the last leg of a two-week working visit to the US, toured The Venetian and New York New York casino resorts in the famous Las Vegas Strip.

He also held talks with their top management, including Mr Sheldon Adelson, the owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp. They gave him an insight into the business and operations of the resorts.

Speaking to the Singapore media after the tour and meetings, MM Lee noted: “Singapore is not Las Vegas. We are not in the middle of the desert, and we haven’t got a population of 300 million.”

He said that the bulk of the visitors – between 85 and 90 per cent – to Las Vegas resorts were Americans.

He said that Mr Adelson had told him that he expected an overwhelming majority of the visitors to Singapore’s resort to come from China, India and the rest of Asia.

“He believes there is a large, already existing demand that will fill up his convention halls and the entertainment he has to offer.”

Mr Adelson also revealed that 30 per cent of his revenue came from the casinos. The rest of it was drawn from hotel entertainment, conventions and exhibitions.

MM Lee said that there was an inevitable progression towards gaming revenue throughout the region. Nobody was going to be deprived of this source of revenue, except where there were profound religious or other inhibitions against it.

Asked whether he saw Macau, which has a thriving casino industry, as a threat to Singapore, he replied: “I have not seen a drop in the number of visitors to Las Vegas because of Macau. I think that those who are making their bets on Singapore believe that, after a while, people who go to Macau will get a bit bored with Macau.

“After all, if you’ve not seen Singapore and you’ve seen Macau so many times, why not Singapore?”

A LOSER’S GAME

“I have never considered gambling a profitable occupation… because if you just look at the mathematical equation you are bound to lose, because the banker does not pay you even bets… I learned my arithmetic in school quite thoroughly on the basics and I know this is a loser’s game…”
MM LEE KUAN YEW on gambling

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