James Ashton: Come to Singapore, but be aware of the rules - chewing gum is bad, gambling is very, very good

Global Outlook It is hard to reconcile buttoned-up Singapore's transformation into the world's second-largest gambling mecca. On the one hand, chewing gum is banned and possession of a few grams of cannabis can lead to instant imprisonment. On the other, one of the original Asian tigers opened a crystal-topped cathedral of gambling four years ago that has been a roaring success. Stud poker is a particular favourite.

Singapore's move into gaming on a grand scale came when the Government, intent on building the city state's tourism trade, licensed two so-called "integrated resorts" with gaming at their heart. The most prominent of these is Marina Bay Sands, whose three towers, with a "sky park" featuring an infinity pool balanced along the top, dominate the bay-side skyline.

Of course it isn't just gaming. Reportedly built for a cool £4bn, there is row after row of luxury shops and high-end restaurants. Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, which owns the complex, made his first fortune from the Comdex conference business, so it stands to reason there is an exhibition centre too, plus an arts and science space, currently featuring the furniture design of Charles and Ray Eames, in a lotus flower-shaped building that Mr Adelson christened the "welcoming hand".

A mid-range suite complete with baby grand piano, karaoke room and personal gym could set you back £5,000 a night. David Beckham and Justin Bieber have sampled the facilities at one time or another. Altogether, it makes its sister resort, The Venetian in Las Vegas, look like something from Toytown.

Marina Bay Sands' boss, George Tanasijevich, is thrilled with how it has traded since the doors opened, with revenues ramping up faster than he expected. Despite the perception that it is drawing in "off the leash" middle-class Chinese, he reports that the biggest-visiting nationals are the Japanese, making up a fifth of guests.

Locals still have a slight unease about it all. Mr Tanasijevich talks about how the group is adept at "balancing social and commercial interests". That means it is marketed squarely at incomers, with advertising in Singapore kept low-key and locals who want a flutter made to pay a £50 daily entry fee, or £1,000 per year, when foreigners can walk in free.

Opening up to gaming has been a key part of Singapore's tourist vision. Initially, the idea was to get business people to tack a few days on to their work trip. Then they were encouraged to bring their families. Now that it has its own Universal Studios on Sentosa Island, together with a second casino complex and man-made beaches, they can stay a little longer.

Regional rivals Japan and South Korea have been left spluttering at the success. Mr Tanasijevich, who is also charged with looking out for new development opportunities for Las Vegas Sands, says they are the two countries keenest to build something similar. But it is interesting that Europe remains a black hole for these developments. In December Las Vegas Sands canned a project dubbed Eurovegas, which would have created six casinos and 12 hotels outside Madrid, following fallouts with the Spanish authorities. Of course, every government must decide the price that is worth paying for a boost to tourism numbers and tax revenues. But Eurovegas, expected to support up to 250,000 jobs, could have helped to ease Spain's youth unemployment crisis.

Back in Singapore, decision time is looming. It has already overtaken Las Vegas to lag only the former Portuguese colony of Macau as the world's top gambling den. When the exclusivity enjoyed by its first two casino resorts runs out in 2017, will the government be able to resist licensing a couple more?

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star