GAMBLING IN SINGAPORE: CASINOS, SOCCER MATCH FIXING AND DEADBEAT CHINESE HIGH-ROLLERS

GAMBLING IN SINGAPORE:

In 2005, AFP reported: “More than half of Singaporeans are gamblers, according to a government survey. A survey of 2004 residents conducted by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports found that 58 percent of Singaporeans aged 18 and above had gambled in the past year. Two in 100 residents in the mainly ethnic-Chinese nation exhibited signs of gambling addiction, a similar percentage to other majority-Chinese cities such as Hong Kong and Macau, the survey said. Middle-aged Chinese men with post-secondary education and disposable incomes of S$2000 (US$1235 US) a month were found to be the group most susceptible to gambling addiction, it noted.

The survey also disclosed that Singaporeans who gamble wager an average $244 a month. Sports results, overseas gambling and horse races were found to be the most popular ways for Singaporeans to get their punting fix. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 13, 2005]

“Horse racing, lotteries and football results draw billions of dollars in bets every year from Singaporeans who place wagers on anything from a crashed vehicle's licence plates to the date of the September 11 attacks in the US. State-linked firms dominate the gaming business but illegal operations continue to lurk in the shadows despite regular police raids. Singapore Turf Club, one of the two legal gambling operators, told AFP the company's turnover last year from horse-racing bets and a numbers draw was S$3.14 billion (US$1.76 billion).A spokesman estimates the size of the illegal gambling market to be "at least as much as the club's turnover." "We aim to provide a legal avenue for betting in Singapore and to channel operations surpluses towards worthy causes that serve the needs of the community." [Source: Agence France Presse, November 3, 2002 **]

“Singaporeans are known to travel in large numbers to neighbouring Malaysia's casino haven Genting Highlands, and some go as far as high-roller destinations like Macau and Las Vegas. According to the Singapore Police Force, most punters prefer to wager their dollars with legal operators. "The illegal gambling situation does not pose a serious challenge to the police," said a spokesman, Ang Poon Seng. **

“On one day alone last April, Singapore police raided nine locations and arrested 18 alleged members of an illegal soccer betting syndicate. Computers, modems, mobile phones, diskettes, match schedules and other materials relating to soccer bookmaking and betting transactions were seized. On the day of raid, the estimated total collection of bets for the English Premier League matches alone amounted to about S$500,000. Ang said although there were fewer illegal bookmaking syndicates now, they have become more technology-savvy in an attempt "to be nimble in their operations". **

“Experts say that for the average man-in-the-street living in Asia's third most affluent populace, gambling offers an imaginary ticket out of the social rat race. "It's an unbeatable proposition," Bryan Yeo, a private psychologist, told AFP. "Where else can you, for a $100, get the chance to win 10, 20 times the return?" "Gambling's become part and parcel of life in Singapore, people don't blink an eye so much when they talk about it these days." In 1999, Singapore's Inland Revenue Authority collected S$1.32 billion in taxes from betting, sweepstakes and private lotteries. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 17, 2005]

High Rollers and Superstition and Gambling in Singapore

AFP reported: “Gambling-mad Singaporeans, being superstitious, read deeply into events in the hope of churning out a winning combination. Several punters reaped a windfall recently from bottled recycled water by betting on the last four digits of the producer's hotline number, 6600. A day before the first anniversary of September 11 terrorist strikes, the 0911 and 1109 combinations were sold out for the following day's weekly lottery draw, where people bet on any four-digit number from 0000 to 9999. A punter was reported by the Straits Times to have also considered 9114 and 9117 because four sounds like "death" in the Chinese dialect Hokkien, while seven sounds like "departed" in Mandarin, but the September 11-linked wagers lost. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 3, 2002 **]

“When traffic slows to a crawl following a road accident in Singapore, passing drivers are known to look at the wreckage for reasons other than morbid curiosity -- they are hoping to get lucky. Jotting down licence plate numbers of mangled cars to use in the weekly Four-Digit Numbers (4D) lottery punt is one of the more bizarre expressions of Singaporeans little known love of gambling. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 17, 2005 ^=^]

“Betting on your dead dad's tombstone number is another. Susan, a 44-year-old personal assistant in a local manufacturing firm, told AFP recurrent dreams of her late father had prompted her to punt on his tombstone number. "I'm very close to my dad, so each time I dream about him, I'll buy his tombstone number," said Susan, who has been waging around S$20 (US$12 ) a week on the lotteries since her father died four years ago. "It's not some form of compensation I'm looking for, he was a regular gambler himself, I'm just following in his footsteps." Plain superstition it may seem, but Susan's tactics came up trumps in February when she won S$5000 from a S$1 ticket in the 4D draw.” ^=^

In 2004, Roger Maynard wrote in The Times, “A high-roller from Singapore has lost A$25 million (about £10 million) in a two-year losing streak at a Melbourne casino. Thomas Tay, who made his fortune shipping freight, incurred the losses by betting up to A$100,000 a hand on high-stakes baccarat tables. Details of Mr Tay’s losing streak appeared in a confidential report, obtained by the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper, into the activities of six Asian betting groups who took over the casino’s Mahogany Room in September. Baccarat, the card game favoured by James Bond, involves betting against the total value of the bank’s hand. Each of the millionaire gamblers would have had to turn over more than A$500,000 to qualify for special privileges, which gave them a rebate on their losses. [Source: Roger Maynard, The Times, October 19, 2004]

Types of Gambling in Singapore

According to AFP: “Gambling begins at home for many of the Southeast Asian nation's mostly ethnic-Chinese population, who grow up with the familiar rattle of shuffling mahjong tiles -- a noisy, dominoes-style game which is usually played for money -- during Lunar New Year, funerals or family gatherings. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 17, 2005 ^=^]

“State-linked Singapore Pools has a turnover of around four billion dollars a year -- or 11 million dollars per day -- by offering wagers on lotteries and local and international football matches, according to company spokeswoman Moone Yip. Its annual Lunar New Year sweepstakes, which allows winnings to snowball to a heady 10-million-dollar grand prize, sees queues of blue-collar workers and professionals alike snaking outside the betting outlets. ^=^

“Those who want a faster bet can plonk in front of one of the estimated 2000 jackpot machines scattered across the island, some offering flutters for as little as 20 cents per draw. The machines, housed in sports and country clubs, are a colourful juxtaposition to the mainstream recreational activities of their surroundings and show how Singapore's authorities already allowing gambling and family-oriented activities to co-exist.^=^

“Some locals, weary of their options here, are also known to travel overseas for their gambling fix. Droves of Singaporeans make the five-hour road trip up to neighbouring Malaysia's casino haven Genting Highlands on weekends and public holidays. Other die-hards chalk up regular "holidays" on cruise ships that offer on-board gambling once they leave Singapore waters, or journey as far as high-roller destinations Macau and Las Vegas. ^=^

Gambling Addiction Deaths in Singapore

In March 2005, Jason Szep of Reuters wrote: “Simon Lee had a history of gambling addiction, losing S$100,000 (US$61,650) in 1995 until finally seeking help from his local preacher. He seemed to have licked the problem, only to start pressing his friends for cash after losing US$2500 at a Malaysian casino in December 2004. In March 2005, swamped in debt and pressured by loan sharks, the 40-year-old fell to his death from a 12th-floor flat. Inside their home, his wife, 11-year-old son and four-year-old daughter lay dead in an apparent murder-suicide. [Source: Jason Szep, Reuters, March 20, 2005 <<<]

“With citizens currently deeply split over plans to open Singapore's first casino, the family tragedy gave opponents a vivid argument against the scheme. Singaporeans seldom speak out against the government, but the deaths are stoking public emotion and stimulating a rare open policy debate. Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state's founding premier, says it has divided ministers into "moralists" and "pragmatists". <<<

Police are still investigating, but Simon Lee's church has confirmed the gambling debts to Reuters. State-linked media have published details of a betting streak critics say is alarmingly familiar in a region where gambling dates back centuries. "The tragedy of the Lee family shows the dangers involved in setting up a casino here. The government has to draw a line somewhere. There has to be a limit. Otherwise we are going to see more family tragedies," said Tan Eng Lock, 48. Tan, a veteran social worker, has gathered nearly 29,000 signatures in an online petition to stop the casino. "My sense is that most people are against it. After the deaths, there was a pickup in signatures but it wasn't really significant," he added, referring to his petition -- "Families Against the Casino Threat in Singapore" -- on www.facts.com.sg. <<<

"Dissent or opposition to policy ideas have appeared in the past in Singapore but not as strong as in this particular case," said Ho Khai Leong, author of several books on Singapore and a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "This tragedy of the Lee family is really unfortunate timing in terms of politics. It's really bad for the government." No reliable polls exist on the public's support for a casino and the government has ruled out holding a referendum on the issue. Online and telephone polls by state-run broadcaster Channel NewsAsia show a slight tilt in the population against it. <<<

“Most experts and Singaporeans expect the casino to get a green light as Singapore fends off threats to its economy. A casino would accelerate efforts to remould Singapore's $110 billion economy into a services hub as China's rapid economic growth erodes the island's traditional manufacturing base and fast-growing cities such as Bangkok vie for tourist dollars. It would open a new avenue for tapping the growing affluence of Asian travellers, while plugging revenues lost to illegal gambling dens and countries where casinos are legal such as Cambodia, the Philippines and, potentially, Thailand and India. <<<

“Singaporeans already bet heavily in lotteries, on cruise ships and via illegal bookmakers. Merrill Lynch estimates that a casino could capture up to 60 percent of the $735 million Singaporeans spend each year gambling abroad. Merrill expects the casino resort to be an "iconic" development worth nearly $5 billion and symbolising attempts to reinvent Singapore while staunching an erosion in the business-minded island's share of Asia's growing tourism market. <<<

“Merrill reckons a third of an estimated $2.1 billion a year in revenues from the casino resort will come from tourists. Critics say the rest would inevitably tap the earnings of vulnerable families such as the Lees. "Once the green light is given it will be a point of no return. And Singapore will see many more tragedies like that of Simon Lee and his family," wrote Andrew Pang Siew Kwan in one of several recent letters to local newspapers.” <<<

Soccer Gambling in Singapore

As part of a campaign against illegal bookmakers and match fixing, Singapore legalized gambling on Singaporean S-League soccer matches in March 1999. The head of the Asian Football Confederation told the Strait Times, "If legalized betting is proven to help reduce or stamp out corruption, it will be an invaluable tool or us." Singaporeans were expected to spend as much as S$250 million on S-League betting in its first few years.

Singapore Pools is a legal lottery operator incorporated by the Singapore government in 1968 in a bid to curb the illegal gambling that was rampant in the 1960s. Today Singapore Pools offers lottery betting and wagers on local and international football matches.

Soccer betting hit a peak during the World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea in 2002, when Singaporeans laid down about S$500 million worth of bets on World Cup matches through Singapore Pools, the Straits Times reported. " Singapore Pools refused to reveal the exact amount taken but its spokeswoman, Janet Low, said it was "significantly more than the S$200 million we projected initially." AFP reported: “State-linked Singapore Pools declined to disclose its earnings, saying "it's not in our practice to disclose turnover figures". [Source: Agence France Presse, November 3, 2002]

Soccer Matching-Fixing in Singapore

Singapore has a long record of match-fixing scandals. According to AFP: “Syndicates from the wealthy southeast Asian island have been blamed by Europol for orchestrating an international network responsible for rigging hundreds of games worldwide. In February 2013, Singapore came under pressure to act against the cartels, whose activities fuel illegal gambling estimated to be worth billions of dollars, when the head of Interpol called for the arrest of an alleged ringleader.

In 2000, Reuters reported: “Four foreign soccer players in Singapore have been arrested in connection with a local match-fixing probe, the Straits Times newspaper reported. The players -- Billy Bone, Brian Bothwell, Max Nicholson, and Lutz Pfannenstiel -- were questioned by Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and released on bail of S$15,000 (US$8,668) each, the paper said. Bone, Bothwell and Nicholson are British. Pfannenstiel is German. Three play for the local S-League's Geylang United club and Nicholson for Woodlands Wellington. Two other foreign players were assisting in the investigation, the newspaper said. [Source: Reuters, August 3, 2000]

“In 1994, a major bribery scandal emerged when the Singapore police arrested a striker and referee for fixing six matches in the 16-team Malaysian league. The scandal led to the banning of a fifth of the league's players and the withdrawal of Singapore from the league. “ [Ibid]

Singaporean Businessman Bribes Lebanese Soccer Referees with Sex

In In April 2013, a Singaporean businessman was charged with corruption for allegedly offering free sex to three Lebanese football referees to get them to fix a match. AFP reported: “Eric Ding Si Yang, 31, was charged with three counts of corruption, a spokesman for the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) told AFP. If convicted, Ding faces a maximum prison term of five years or a fine of up to $US81,000 ($78,500), or both penalties, for each charge. [Source: AFP, April 8, 2013]

Referee Ali Sabbagh and his fellow Lebanese assistants Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb were charged earlier and remain in custody while their application for bail is being processed. They were about to officiate in Singapore-based Tampines Rovers' AFC Cup fixture with India's East Bengal when they were abruptly dropped and questioned by the CPIB. The CPIB said in a statement on Thursday that it had acted on "prior information of match-fixing'' involving the three referees."Subsequent investigations revealed that the trio corruptly received gratification ... in the form of free sexual service from three females,'' CPIB said.

“Singapore's Sunday Times said Ding spends most of his time in Bangkok but has stakes in a restaurant and nightclub in Singapore. He is known to have a passion for fast cars and drives an Aston Martin Vantage, the newspaper said. Ding was a football tipster with local tabloid The New Paper from 2006 to 2012, it added.

Two months later, AFP reported: “A Lebanese football referee was jailed for six months after pleading guilty to accepting free sex from a gambling-linked syndicate which offered the bribe as an inducement to rig a match in Singapore. Ali Sabbagh, 34, was described by a district court judge as the most culpable of three Lebanese football match officials charged with corruption in the city-state. Assistant referees Ali Eid, 33, and Abdallah Taleb, 37, were each given three-month jail sentences, but were scheduled to be deported back to Lebanon after they were released a day early for good behavior and the time they had already spent in jail while waiting for their sentence. District judge Low Wee Ping said Sabbagh's sentence had to be a "multiple" of his assistants because he was the one approached by the syndicate and the one who persuaded the two linesmen to accept the sexual bribe. "The principle of parity of sentence does not apply to you. You have to be sentenced based on the more aggravating factors in your case," the judge said. [Source: AFP, June 11, 2013]

The three men were arrested and charged with corruption for accepting sexual favors in exchange for agreeing to fix an unspecified football match. The judge said Sabbagh's sentence took into account his guilty plea and the fact that his acceptance of the bribe did not result in any football match being rigged. "There was no correlation between the sexual services the three of you received and the football match on the same day," added the judge. Sabbagh, a sports teacher in his country, started sobbing as the judge read the judgement and later thanked him before he was led away in shackles by police officers. His lawyer earlier told the court that Sabbagh would be the "star prosecution witness" in the case against Eric Ding Si Yang, the Singaporean businessman who allegedly supplied the prostitutes to the trio.

State prosecutors said that Sabbagh was introduced to 31-year-old Ding – who used the alias "James" – in June 2012 at a cafe in Beirut, indicating a "clear international dimension" to the offenses. They said the Lebanese referee expressed his preference for "tall Asian girls" to Ding during one of their meetings.

Kevin Lim of Reuters wrote: Ding, who has also been arrested, is out on bail and has pleaded not guilty to three bribery charges against him - one for each of the Lebanese defendants. In Ali Sabbagh's case, prosecutors said he first made contact with Ding in June 2012 at a cafe in Beirut.

Then the three Lebanese met Ding in Singapore on April 2 "to discuss their preference for girls" one day before the match between the Singaporean and Indian teams, the prosecution said. Ding subsequently arranged for the women to be sent to their hotel rooms in the early hours of April 3, the prosecution said. Lawyer Gary Low, who acted for the three Lebanese, said in a mitigation plea that the "acceptance of the gratification... did not result in any actual football match being fixed". Under Singapore's Prevention of Corruption Act, the three Lebanese officials had each faced a possible maximum fine of S$100,000 and five years in jail. [Source: Kevin Lim, Reuters, June 11, 2013]

Mastermind Behind Singapore’s Global Football Match-Fixing Ring

Singaporean businessman Dan Tan Seet Eng is accused of heading the syndicate that made millions of dollars betting on rigged Italian football matches. The crime syndicate is thought to be made up of people from Singapore and the Balkans. Alex Ward wrote in the Daily Mail, “Dan Tan Seet Eng, also known as Dan Tan, is accused of heading a crime syndicate that made millions of dollars betting on rigged Italian football matches. The Singapore Police Force confirmed that they were questioning Tan and it is thought he is a key figure in the ‘Last Bet’ investigation into corruption in football by global law enforcers Interpol. The crime group is thought to be made up of people from Singapore and the Balkans and are believed to have manipulated the results of Italian league matches in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. [Source: Alex Ward, Daily Mail, February 22, 2013 \=\]

“The move came after Italian police arrested Tan's alleged associate, Slovenian Admir Suljic after he had been on the run since December 2011. Police in Singapore gave information to Interpol which made Suljic’s arrest possible. Suljic, who is accused of criminal association aimed at sporting fraud, flew to Milan from Singapore to turn himself in to the authorities. He is considered a 'key element' in the probe into match-fixing between 2009 and 2011. Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said the arrest of Suljic, followed by the questioning of Tan, is ‘important because the world believes that law enforcement can't do anything to take down this criminal organisation, the world believes that (Tan) and his associates can't be touched, that they are above the law’. \=\

“Italian Police said Suljic would be taken to a prison in the city of Cremona. The Italian police said in a statement: ‘His direct involvement in the international criminal group, made of Singapore nationals and people from the Balkans, has emerged from the investigation.’ FIFA's security director Ralf Mutschke admitted soccer officials had underestimated the scope of match-fixing after FIFA revealed estimates that organised crimes takes as much as £9.6bn a year by fixing matches. \=\

“The Singapore police statement said: ‘In response to media queries, the Singapore Police Force confirms that it had informed Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB) Rome and Interpol's Command and Coordination Centre at Interpol HQ in Lyon, France of the travel plans of a person wanted by the Italian authorities for investigations into match-fixing. ‘The Singapore Police provided this information as part of the regular and ongoing exchange that the Singapore Police Force has with its counterparts. ‘The person has since been arrested by the Italian authorities and NCB Rome has sent a message to NCB Singapore thanking the Police for its support in this matter.’ \=\

“The investigation comes as official football bodies revealed that football has become a multi-million pound industry for the mafia, Chinese gangsters and Russian crooks which is fuelled by match fixing. Internet betting, criminal gangs and even the economic downturn have all contributed to making football an obvious target for the criminal underworld. At least 50 nations in 2012 had match-fixing investigations - almost a quarter of the 209 members of football's governing body FIFA. \=\

“Europol, the European Union's police body, announced last week it had found 680 'suspicious' games worldwide since 2008, including 380 in Europe. 'Football is in a disastrous state', said Chris Eaton, director of sport integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security. 'Fixing of matches for criminal gambling fraud purposes is absolutely endemic worldwide... arrogantly happening daily.' FIFA has estimated that organised crime takes in as much as £9.6billion a year by fixing matches In Italy alone, a recent rigging scandal is estimated to have produced £1.6 billion for the Camorra and the Mafia crime syndicates, Eaton said. \=\

“The total amount of money generated by sports betting would equal the gross domestic product of Switzerland, ranked 19th in the world. Sportradar, a company in London that monitors global sports betting, estimates that about 300 football games a year in Europe alone could be rigged. And criminals have realised it can be easier to shift gambling profits across borders. 'These are real criminals — Italian mafia, Chinese gangs, Russian mafia,' said Sylvia Schenk, a sports expert with corruption watchdog Transparency International. While Ralf Mutschke, FIFA's security chief, admits that soccer officials have underestimated the scope of match-fixing. He told Associated Press that 'realistically, there is no way' FIFA can tackle organised crime by itself, saying it needs more help from national law enforcement agencies.” \=\

Singapore's Opens Its First Casino

Larry Loh of CNN reported: “At exactly 11.18pm on February 14, 2010, Singapore joined the ranks of other cities such as Macau and Las Vegas when Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) officially opened the nation's first casino. Together with the Marina Bay Sands —which opened a few months later — the opening of the so-called 'integrated resorts' are aimed at bolstering tourism to the city-state. Whether by coincidence or intent, this day was the first day of the Lunar Year of the Tiger, as well as being Valentine's Day, making it a double red-letter day for both the country and Resorts World Sentosa. [Source: Larry Loh, CNN, February 14, 2010 /+/]

“Possibly due to the significance of the date, there was added excitement. A large crowd turned up, forming a queue before the official opening to grab bragging rights to be the first visitors into the casino complex. (It previously had been hidden away from public eyes and surrounded in a veil of secrecy.) /+/

“At the opening ceremony, chairman of Resorts World Sentosa and the Genting Group, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay said, "In less than three years since the time we broke ground and commenced construction for Resorts World Sentosa, we have taken our vision from drawing board to reality. This is a significant milestone in Singapore’s business history. We promised to deliver a true integrated resort, and we have not deviated from that." /+/

“At 12.18pm, one hour after the private opening ceremony, RWS welcomed the first public guest into the casino. Despite the steep entrance levy of S$100 for Singapore citizens and permanent residents, the queues started to form as early as 8am that morning. The S$100 levy is a mandatory fee imposed by the authorities as part of the efforts to limit the social impact of casino gambling, which also includes several exclusion schemes regulated by the newly formed National Council on Problem Gambling. /+/

“The casino floor itself is vast, stretching over 15,000 square meters, with 530 gaming tables and 1,300 slot machines spread throughout the complex. An estimated 13 million visitors are expected for the first year of operation, and when fully open over 10,000 people will be employed, according to officials. RWS is also looking at different events to attract gamblers and visitors -- poker tournaments and championships high on the list.” /+/

Decision to Build Casinos in Singapore

In April, 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the cabinet's decision to develop two casinos with attached hotels and malls in Marina South and Sentosa Island. According to to CNN: “These were subsequently given the euphemism of 'integrated resorts' to lessen the emphasis on gambling and allude to the entertainment and tourism value of the casinos.” [Source: Larry Loh, CNN, February 14, 2010 /+/]

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star: “Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said Singapore would have casinos “over my dead body” before being persuaded to go along by his son, the current PM Lee Hsien Loong. What ultimately convinced him was seeing more and more countries going into it, which would mean leaving a casino-less Singapore behind. But he told reporters recently that he still had reservations about allowing them to operate in Singapore. “I do not believe it is a good idea to expect people to get rich by luck. Especially in casinos,” Lee said. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, August 4, 2012 \\\\]

Lee Hsien Loong told the Washington Post: “For a long time, we fought in principle against casinos. Finally, we were persuaded it’s big business and if we were not in it, someone else would be. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to shield our people from gambling. We can’t be the nanny. “Economically it’s worked out “very well. The social impact — we’ll have to wait a few years to see. [Source: Washington Post, March 15, 2013]

The government has laid down a list of social safeguards to allay concerns about possible ill-effects of such a centre, including restrictions to prevent Singaporeans, particularly those who can least afford to fritter away their money, from becoming gambling addicts. These restrictions include a S$100 (US$61) levy for a one-day entry into the casino and $2000 dollars for an annual membership.

Money and the Pluses and Minuses of Singapore’s Casinos

How much money was spent on Singapore’s casinos? Neel Chowdhury wrote in Time, Citigroup estimates that Resorts World Sentosa, will included six hotels and a Universal Studios theme park, ran a construction tab of roughly $4.5 billion. Marina Bay, boasting Singapore's largest hotel and one of Asia's biggest convention spaces, cost roughly $5.5 billion. Even by the opulent standards of the gaming world, analysts say these are giant sums. "The Singapore casinos are by far the most expensive ones in the region," says Gabriel Chan, head of Asian gaming research for Credit Suisse, who points out that an average casino in Macau costs roughly half as much. The Venetian in Las Vegas, completed in the late 1990s, cost roughly $1.5 billion — less than a third of his current Singapore project. [Source: Neel Chowdhury, Time, February 13, 2010 <>]

“Keen to repeat the success of Macau, which over the last decade has transformed itself from a sleepy gambling backwater into an entertainment destination, the Singapore government awarded the bids to build the two casino resorts to Las Vegas Sands and Genting in 2006. The hefty $10-billion price tag for the two developments underscore the vast ambitions of Singapore's leaders seeking to similarly transform the island's image from that of a staid, buttoned-up society into a fun, adventurous city. And while that may be fine for foreign tourists, analysts say the high fee to be imposed on Singaporeans who visit the casinos reflects the city-state's underlying unease at the thought of its conservative citizens turning into hard-partying gamblers — and making it difficult for operators to start profiting off their massive investments. <>

“For Genting, operator of Resorts World Sentosa, recouping its $4.5 billion investment won't be easy. Even though it will be one of two exclusive casino operators, unlike Macau or Las Vegas, where there is fierce competition within a much larger pool, analysts and investors have set their initial expectations for Sentosa's gaming revenues "far too high," says Citigroup analyst Dominic Noel-Johnson. To meet Citigroup's relatively conservative 2011 gaming revenue estimate of $1.2 billion for Resorts World Sentosa — more than a third less than the consensus of other brokerage houses — every single foreign tourist expected to come to the island that year would have to visit either one of Singapore's two integrated resorts. In addition to that unlikely scenario, every adult 21 and over in Singaporean would have to go to one of the casinos five times a year, and every adult resident of neighboring Malaysian state Johor would have to go twice every year. <>

“The unusually high $70 daily casino entrance fee, or $1400 for an annual pass, being imposed on local visitors will be one of the casinos biggest obstacles. "The entry levy is meant to signal that gambling is an expense, not a means to make a living," explains Lim Hock San, Chairman of the National Council on Problem Gambling. "It discourages impulse gambling." Though betting on horse races is allowed in Singapore, the government strictly controls other forms of gambling, one of the reasons it plans to allow only two casinos to operate on the small island. The families of gambling addicts can also apply for their loved ones to be excluded from the upcoming casinos, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. The council, which will provide the casinos a list of those who are barred, has already excluded 29,000 people. Drawing on past government surveys, it estimates the size of probable "pathological" gamblers at about 1.1 percent to 2.2 percent of Singapore's adult population, similar to those found in Macau and Hong Kong. <>

“Such fees may help discourage gambling addicts from throwing their salaries away. But they are also likely to be a hurdle in building up the number of local gamblers and will likely force casino operators to depend more on foreign "high-rollers" to turn a profit. That strategy has its risks, analysts say. Noel-Johnson, for instance, points out that 72 percent of visitors to Genting's resort in the Malaysian highlands are local "day-trippers," and more than half the visitors to Macau's casinos are gamblers from Hong Kong and Guangdong province who bet with limited cash. "If you look at the successful gaming markets in Asia, they have a dependable local mass market," he says. "If you are inhibiting Singaporeans from visiting the casinos, you are handicapping yourself." <>

“Resorts World Sentosa executives, for their part, say they were aware of the local entrance fees before they bid for the casino. They counter that they have a diverse range of entertainment offerings, including the Universal Studios theme park as well as fine dining and hotels, and so are not solely reliant on gaming. (Local families who elect to only visit Universal Studios and not gamble, for instance, would not have to pay the casino entrance fee.) "Resorts World is on track to reach its target of 13 million visitors in its first year of operations," says Robin Goh, Assistant Director of Communications at Resorts World Sentosa. Executives from Adelson's Marina Bay Sands resort echo the sentiment. "While the casino is an important component of our integrated resort, our convention center, entertainment, celebrity chef restaurants and luxury shopping mall will bring tens of thousands of people daily," says Thomas Arasi, CEO of Marina Bay Sands. "Las Vegas Sands has opened and run integrated resorts in Las Vegas and Macau, and we think this is a successful business model that will also work in Singapore." <>

“The two Singapore casinos, to be sure, have significant long-term advantages. Unlike the crowded gaming markets of Macau and Las Vegas, they will be operating as a duopoly with no immediate fear of further competition. The gambling tax rates will be significantly lower in Singapore than they are in Macau. And, most important, the casinos sit on perhaps two of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the country, enhancing their appeal to both locals and foreigners. Marina Bay Sands is minutes away from the city's downtown offices on a fringe of sea-facing land overlooking the ship-sprinkled waters of the Singapore Strait. <>

“While the resorts may initially struggle to recoup their costs, Singapore, nevertheless, is likely to see the benefit sooner. Casinos will likely help create tens of thousands of new jobs for Singaporeans, as well as entice tourists from across Asia. "The Singapore government sees the casinos as a means to an end," explains Credit Suisse's Chan. "They want visitors to come to Singapore and spend money on entertainment and hotels and shopping, not purely on gambling." Citigroup expects the casinos to help push up visitor arrivals to 12.8 million by the end of 2011, roughly a third higher than where they stand today. Says Noel-Johnson, "The biggest winner will be the Singapore government because of the spillover effect on hotels and tourism." Even as the odds appear daunting for its casinos, like any prudent gambler, Singapore has carefully hedged its bets.” <>

Islamic Groups Bar Muslims from Singapore’s Casinos

In 2005, years before Singapores’ casino’s opened, Islamic organisations warned Muslims not to enter them even though the gambling centre may offer attractive job prospects. "Muslims should be clear about the need for them not to be involved in any way, whether as clients or employees, even though the casino sector could offer numerous job prospects," a joint statement by seven Islamic groups said. [Source: Agence France Presse, January 15, 2005 +=+]

AFP reported: “The groups urged the Muslim Religious Council of Singapore to "convince the government to refrain from legitimizing the casino industry despite the objections of the public". But, acknowledging that there was scant probability of the government halting its plans, they suggested that the establishment of a ministerial council to oversee and control the adverse effects of gambling "if the government proceeds to build a casino". +=+

“The groups also argued that the government's case for lifting the ban on casinos had largely been built on economic grounds and that the negative social impact of such a move had been ignored. "Our nation is built on an anti-corruption creed, which implies that there is no short cut to wealth and prosperity. A pro-casino policy is like looking for a quick fix which only serves to erode our virtues of thrift, diligence and honesty," the statement said. +=+

“The joint statement is the latest addition to a string of criticisms from religious and civic groups of the casino complex plans, which are aimed at attracting well-heeled tourists and are already in the advanced stages. The government has invited potential investors to submit concept plans for a leisure and casino complex, although no decision has yet been made whether to give the green light for the project.” +=+

Singapore's Casino Gamble Pays off One Year on

A year after Resorts World Sentosa opened, Philip Lim of AFP wrote: “Just one year after opening its first casino, Singapore has emerged as Asia's hottest new gambling capital with a revamped cityscape and billions of dollars pouring into the economy. "Singapore has made a dramatic entry to the casino gaming market," financial consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report estimating the city-state's casino gaming market at US$2.8 billion (S$3.57 billion) in 2010. The first casino opened in Malaysian-controlled Resorts World Sentosa on February 14, 2010, with US-based Las Vegas Sands following two months later as the world economy was still clawing itself out of recession. [Source: Philip Lim, AFP, February 13, 2011]

“Resorts World Sentosa also boasts Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme park, while Marina Bay Sands has become an architectural icon with its three curving towers topped off by a "SkyPark" shaped like a sleek ocean liner. Thanks in large measure to the casino complexes, tourist arrivals in Singapore last year hit 11.6 million, breaking by far the previous record of 10.3 million set in 2007. Most of the visitors came from the Asia-Pacific region, with mainland China, Australia, Indonesia and India together accounting for 53 percent. Tourist spending helped fuel Singapore's 14.7 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2010, making it Asia's fastest-growing economy, after a 1.3 percent contraction in 2009.

PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that Singapore would overtake South Korea and Australia this year to become the second-largest Asia-Pacific casino market behind traditional leader Macau. "In 2011, with a full year's operation for both resorts, we expect revenues to reach US$5.5 billion, growing to US$8.3 billion by 2014," it said. When the government lifted a ban on casinos, they were euphemistically called "integrated resorts" or "IRs" amid an outcry from civic and church groups worried about the social impact of large-scale gambling.

"Definitely with the opening of the casinos, we have seen an increase in gambling addicts seeking help," said Tan Lye Keng, executive director of One Hope Centre, a Christian welfare organisation for gambling addicts. He told AFP that the S$100 (US$78) entry levy imposed on Singaporean citizens and permanent residents failed to deter gamblers. Families can also apply for problem gamblers to be banned from entering the casino premises.

But the resorts have also created thousands of new jobs for Singaporeans, and tourists rave over non-gambling attractions like Universal Studios. "Visitor arrivals have really come in stronger and I think that's a direct spinoff from having the IRs on shore," Barclays Capital senior regional economist Leong Wai Ho told AFP. He said the resorts were contributing in the region of 0.3 to 0.4 percent of GDP, with the potential for that to increase to 0.7 percent in the near future. "That's only when both casinos, both IRs are up and running fully, so we're not there yet actually. Contributions to date have been significant, but I think the potential is for more to come," he said.

In the latest financial statement issued by parent company Las Vegas Sands, Marina Bay Sands was shown to have raked in US$1.02 billion in revenues from its casino operations in 2010. Resorts World Sentosa declined to disclose specific casino revenue numbers, but its total revenue stood at $1.53 billion for the nine-month period ending September 30, 2010. Las Vegas-based casino industry analyst Jonathan Galaviz estimated casino revenue constitutes "at least 60 percent" of the total for Resorts World Sentosa.

"Tourism is a critical economic component for Singapore's economy," Galaviz told AFP. "The exercise of legalising casino gaming, in the context of integrated resort development, has turned out to be a successful endeavour." But Galaviz cautioned that Singapore should not get carried away by the success of the casino-powered resorts. "I believe from a public policy perspective, that Singapore should protect itself from gaining the perception by the outside world that it is a casino-centric country," he said. "For example, the financial sector in Singapore needs Singapore to be known as a stable, serious, and very ethical place for doing business," he added.

Singapore Casinos Two Years After They Opened

In 2013, Eveline Danubrata and Anshuman Daga of Reuters wrote: “Singapore's two casinos had estimated combined gross gaming revenue of about $5.9 billion (3.8 billion pounds) last year, according to industry analysts, just below the $6.2 billion pulled in by dozens of casinos on the Las Vegas strip. "It's the volume and the level of play," said Adam Weissenberg, global leader of the travel, hospitality and leisure segment at Deloitte & Touche. "The casinos are bringing in people who have million-dollar credit lines. They are bringing in people who are playing million-dollar hands." [Source: Eveline Danubrata and Anshuman Daga, Reuters, April 10, 2013]

More than 30 casinos in Macau, a special administrative region in China, raked in $38 billion in gaming revenue in 2012. But despite profit margins of more than 40 percent, far higher than in Macau and on the Las Vegas strip, Singapore's casinos risk more write-offs. Genting Singapore's trade and other receivables rose by nearly one-third from a year earlier to S$959.5 million as of end-2012. Impairment loss on trade receivables was 18 percent higher at S$143 million for 2012. "The more you start to see the increase in their receivables, what you then start to see coming through in their results later on, is possible deterioration in their earnings quality and also including cash flow generation," said Vicky Melbourne, Fitch Ratings' Asia Pacific head of industrials.

Las Vegas Sands said its overall provision for doubtful accounts rose an annual 59 percent to $239.3 million last year, with the bulk of the increase due to receivables at the Singapore casino "related to credit extended, as well as increases to provisions for specific customers." Other gaming company analysts said the numbers were not yet a huge worry, but they were watching the increase with concern.

Chinese High-Rollers in Singapore Skip Town Before Paying Off Their Debts

In 2013, Eveline Danubrata and Anshuman Daga of Reuters wrote: “High-rollers get lavish treatment and hefty credit lines at Singapore's two casinos, like any other gaming house in the world. But here, more of them skip town without paying their debt, a matter of increasing concern for investors. An examination of court documents by Reuters and a series of interviews with lawyers and industry executives reveal that several of the gamblers have run up millions of dollars in debt and then scampered back to China, where they are effectively untouchable. [Source: Eveline Danubrata and Anshuman Daga, Reuters, April 10, 2013]

“Resorts World sued Chinese gambler Kuok Sio Kun in Singapore last year to recover S$2.2 million (1.1 million pounds). But more than six months on, the casino has not even managed to serve court papers to the Macau-based woman. After several letters of demand went unanswered for months, it tapped a Singapore law firm to sue the 46-year-old, court documents show. It then hired a Macau-based law firm, which advertised in a Chinese-language newspaper, posted the court documents at Kuok's last known address and went there twice. "I have made all reasonable efforts and used all due means in my power to serve the court documents on the defendant, but have not been able to do so," the Macau lawyer said in the documents.

In Macau, the world's biggest gambling haven, debts are mostly handled by junket operators, who bring high rollers to casinos. Some of the 200 or so operators there have been associated with triads, or criminal gangs, which are notoriously efficient in collecting money. Singapore only has three junket operators, which are heavily regulated and must renew their licences each year as the city-state seeks to maintain its image as a clean and safe business and tourist destination. So, when faced with bad debts, casinos negotiate with the gamblers, and as a last resort, file suits in court. But as gambling debt is considered a civil, not criminal, issue in Singapore, gamblers who fail to pay will not be arrested.

The two casinos have sued at least three Chinese gamblers to recover millions of dollars but court documents reviewed by Reuters show they have not been able to get any money from them so far. "The junket operators shoulder most of the credit risk and debt collection in Macau, but Singapore has a structural disadvantage of not having the junket network and presence," said Lucius Chong, an analyst at CIMB Research. Court documents show Marina Bay Sands has filed 84 claims for at least S$250,000 each at Singapore's top court since 2010, including 62 last year and 11 as of mid-March this year. Resorts World filed 11 cases in 2012 and one in 2010. These cases relate to all manner of claims, not just gambling debts.

“Many of the suits filed in the Singapore court are against gamblers based in the country, but there are likely to be larger claims on Chinese high-rollers that are not pursued due to the "painful" process and the potential bad publicity, lawyers said. Singapore does not have reciprocal enforcement of judgments with China, except for Hong Kong. This means that even if a casino obtains a judgment in a Singapore court, it also has to sue the gambler in China, they said. "If there is a lot of gambling debt and the gambler is in China now, usually the casinos can hardly get any cooperation from the Chinese government to go after them because gambling is illegal in China," said Huang Jing, director at the Centre on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, who advises China's policymakers. Sands has described Singapore as the "most challenging credit market", citing the highly concentrated nature of the market, the small number of junket operators and very little legal help in the region to collect debt.

Resorts World gave Kuok S$200,000 in March 2010 and another S$800,000 in October. Within the next few days, it granted three more credit lines worth S$2 million, documents show. Kuok owed the casino S$2.2 million after offsetting deposit and commission. Her application form showed that she received a reference for the initial credit facility of S$200,000. It was not immediately known what she played at the tables, but baccarat is the game of choice for high rollers at the exclusive Crockfords Club at Resorts World and in Paiza at Marina Bay.

“The key things that a casino looks at when extending credit to VIP gamblers are the player's credit history at other casinos and references, said a former executive at one of the casinos. "Once somebody gives you that one credit line, you go anywhere, people will give it to you provided that you are on good payment terms," he said. But he noted that it was difficult to accurately assess an overseas gambler's net worth. "Even if you have assets, if you are overseas they can't sue you, especially in China."

Impact of Singapore’s Casinos on Singaporeans

To discourage locals from visiting casinos, the government imposed an entry levy on Singaporeans and permanent residents, but this has not worked too well. In 2012, locals made up 30 percent of all casino gamblers.Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Two years after their launch, Singapore’s two mega-casinos have succeeded in attracting - in the eyes of the host - the wrong customers, vulnerable Singaporeans. In 2012, the two resorts, Genting Singapore and Las Vegas Sands, which were designed principally to lure in foreign gamblers, attracted some 200,000 Singaporean (and permanent resident) gamblers. This was despite the self-exclusion orders imposed on 93,000 people mainly for reasons of bankruptcy, habitual gambling and family insistence. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, August 4, 2012 \\\\]

As a disincentive, the government imposed an entry levy of S$100 (RM250) or S$2000 (RM5,000) a year on Singapore residents (including PRs), but it didn’t work too well. In fact, locals today make up 30 percent of all casino gamblers. The levies collected from them totalled S$288mil (RM720mil) in the past 18 months. Apart from the good, there also come the bad; the resorts, as predicted, do have their dark side. Two years is too early a time to total up the precise social damage, but gambling has contributed to an extent to family break-ups, bankruptcies and suicides. They have also raised charges of money laundering. \\\\

“Today – as was during the decision-making days – it remains a controversial issue. At the time it split the cabinet down the middle which required Lee Kuan Yew to step in to resolve. Likewise, it has now split society. On one side are people who praise their contributions to jobs and tourist spending, while others blame it for undermining the moral fabric of society. “The government failed its duty to act as society’s moral guardian when it allowed casinos to operate in Singapore knowing the consequences to come,” said a retired teacher-friend.“By doing so, it passed the wrong message to the young that for the sake of making money it was alright to allow casino gambling,” she added. \\\\

“In apparent response to increasing pressures at home and abroad, the government plans to raise the barrier that stand in the way of excessive visits by Singaporeans. Two major changes may be implemented by year-end. Firstly, laws will be strengthened to allow the regulator to impose a fine of up to 10 percent of the casinos’ annual revenues, instead of just S$1mil (RM2.51mil). The authorities want a stricter record-keeping to prevent money laundering that is worrying some foreign governments. Corrupt officials and drug traffickers often use casinos to clean their illegal money. \\\\

“Secondly, a “visit limit” is being considered to protect financially vulnerable local patrons who visit the casinos frequently. Under the proposed new regulation, any Singaporean (and PR) who visits the casino more than five times in a given a month is considered a “high frequency” gambler. It may compel him to show that he is not in financial distress before being allowed to visit it the sixth time. \\\\

“According to the government, the negative impact of casinos is under control. Police have arrested 112 people for casino-related crimes in the first year of operation, but the majority was of a petty nature But in the minds of the common-folks, the evil of casino gambling is to be blamed every time someone commits suicide by jumping in front of a train or drowning himself at Bedok Reservoir. Such cases had leaped in numbers since the casinos opened their doors, although no one has a clear picture whether gambling had driven all of them to kill themselves. To many people, casinos and money-lending live side by side. In the first nine months of last year, there were 10,439 cases of illegal money-lending and harassment, a 24 percent rise over the same period in 2010. The number of arrests rose 24 percent to 1,492 in similar comparisons. \\\\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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