Monday, January 5, 2009

Genting wins Singapore casino license

The casino resort on Sentosa, Singapore, by Malaysia's Genting International and Star Cruises. (EPA)


SINGAPORE: Singapore awarded its second casino resort contract Friday to Genting International, whose proposal of a venture worth 5.2 billion Singapore dollars is intended to lure thousands of visitors with a Universal Studios theme park and a huge outdoor marine park.

Genting, which runs two casinos in Malaysia, had joined with Star Cruises in its bid against the Las Vegas-based Eighth Wonder and Kerzner International to build and operate the resort. The project is scheduled to open in 2010 on a site of 49 hectares, or 121 acres, on Sentosa Island.

Singapore's deputy prime minister, S. Jayakumar, said at a news conference that Genting had provided "the most compelling proposal over all that best meets our economic and tourism objectives."

He added, "We wanted a large-scale family-oriented resort that would draw a large number of new visitors to Singapore."

Kerzner International had joined with CapitaLand, Southeast Asia's largest property developer, to submit a 3.3-billion-dollar concept with designs by the architect Frank Gehry.

Eighth Wonder, headed by the resort builder Mark Advent, had put in the most expensive bid at 3.5 billion dollars with its partners. They were Isle of Capri Casinos, James Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting, and Melco International Development, which is controlled by Lawrence Ho, the son of e Stanley Ho, a Macao gambling entrepreneur.

Singapore reversed its decades-old ban on casino gambling last year in an attempt to double visitor arrivals to 17 million by 2015. The first contract was awarded in May to Las Vegas Sands, which plans to open its casino resort by July 2009.

For the second casino, the government evaluated the proposals based on tourism appeal, architectural design, level of investment and strength of the bidding consortium and partners.

When Singapore ended the ban on gambling to help shed its straight-laced image and lure more of the 2.5 billion people who live within seven hours' flying time of the island. Competition from Hong Kong, where Walt Disney opened a theme park in 2005, and Macao, the only place in China where casinos are legal, may frustrate the city's plan to triple revenue from tourism by 2015.

Genting's casino resort is central to the government's 12-billion-dollar redevelopment of Sentosa, which means "peace and tranquillity" in Malay and is connected to Singapore by a 710-meter, or half-mile, causeway.

Singapore is not alone. Macao, which could overtake the Las Vegas strip as the world's largest gambling hub this year, expects to open at least four more casinos in 2007.

Casinos in Macao collected $3.1 billion in gambling revenue in the six months ended June, more than in the whole of 2002, according to the city's Gaming Inspection and Coordination Board. The Las Vegas strip collected $3.3 billion in the same six-month period, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Genting's chief executive, Lim Kok Thay, is hoping that the Singapore project will help the company leapfrog Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment and Wynn Resorts to become the world's third-largest gambling operator by market value.

Winning the bid also extends the geographic reach of Genting, which is owned by one of Malaysia's richest families.

The company took control of Stanley Leisure this year, giving it access to the customers of the biggest British casino operator. It also owns Star Cruises, Asia's largest cruise line and a partner in the Sentosa bid, and Genting Highlands, a cluster of hotels around casinos on a mountain near Kuala Lumpur, where the company is based.

Singapore's government has said it will not offer another casino license for at least a decade. It also says the casinos will be heavily regulated, and is imposing measures to curb problem gambling, including a 100-dollar-a-day levy on citizens and permanent residents entering the gambling rooms.

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