Singapore first to up the ante in Asian casino game

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Macau might have established itself as the new center of the gaming world but the next few months will see two new operations hoping to cash in on the Asian casino craze.

Singapore's Marina Bay Sands, at an estimated cost of US$6 billion (€4 billion), and the US$4.7 billion (€3.2 billion) Resort World Sentosa are set to open their doors early in 2010 - with the actual dates to be confirmed next month.

"Integrated Resorts''' is how they are being marketed - and there are plenty of other options available to visitors - but make no mistake, casino operations are at the core of operations with the Sands facility alone boasting 15,000 square feet (13900 square meters) of gaming spread over four floors.

And there are plenty more destinations in Asia about to follow suit. It is expected that Taiwan will soon greenlight casinos on its Penghu Island, while the Philippines and Japan are currently seeing massive "IR'' developments sprouting up in Manila Bay and Odaiba respectively, both including casinos.

Rumors are rife also in the gaming industry that the governments of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are leaning towards legalizing casino operations soon in part to try to control the massive illegal gambling markets in those countries.

The catalyst has been Macau and the fact that its casinos continue to flourish, despite the world's financial woes. The tiny Chinese Special Administrative Region overtook Las Vegas in terms of gaming revenues in 2006 - just two years after a liberated market saw four casino franchises allowed instead of the previous one - and its figures have continued to rise.

Meanwhile, Vegas - once the undisputed king of the gaming world - has seen revenues dip by around 18 percent this year, when the powers that be were expecting a 2.5 percent decline, according to a report in Thursday's Las Vegas Review-Journal.

And so to Singapore and the city-state's plans to enter the game. On paper at least, things look impressive.

As well as its casino, Marina Bay Sands will feature a 200-meter high "sky park,'' three 55-storey towers and a "Louis Vuitton Island'' (accessed by underwater tunnel) as part of a complex boasting more than 300 retail outlets.

RWS, meanwhile, boasts a 24-ride Universal Studios theme park, theaters, and six hotels offering a combined 1,800 rooms, along with its casino.

That combination of luxury and entertainment - and well as gambling - should prove a boon for Singapore, according to Asian gaming industry commentator Neil Gough.

"In terms of pure casino economics, Singapore should be extremely competitive in luring high rollers, which account for about 65 per cent of all casino winnings in Macau,'' he wrote recently in the South China Morning Post.