Singapore opens second casino, major bet on Asian gambling

Singapore threw open the doors of its second casino Tuesday, giving a fresh boost to the city's tourism sector and raising its profile as a playground for the world's high-rollers.

The 5.5 billion US dollar Marina Bay Sands, built by US gaming giant Las Vegas Sands, opened at 3:18 pm local time (0718 GMT), which is associated with prosperity according to Chinese geomancy experts.

It is Las Vegas Sands' latest big-time bet on the future of Asia's gaming industry and is its first casino in Asia outside Macau.

Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson said he expects to recoup his Singapore investment in five years, and described the development as the company's most valuable property so far.

He expects 70,000 to 80,000 people to visit the complex daily when all the facilities are open.

Singapore gave the green light for casino gambling in 2005, setting off a flurry of construction that went ahead despite the city-state slipping into recession in 2008 because of the global financial crisis.

Its first casino, the 4.4 billion US-dollar Resorts World Sentosa built by Malaysia's Genting Group, opened for business on February 14.

Marina Bay Sands was originally set to open at the end of 2009 but faced repeated delays caused by a number of factors, including material and labour shortages and financial problems due to the downturn.

Tuesday's opening includes the casino and 963 out of 2,560 hotel rooms, a portion of the shopping mall, some restaurants, an exhibition centre and the events plaza.

The remaining hotel rooms and suites, a skypark and more shops will open on June 23, while a museum, theatres and other stores will start operations later in the year, the management said.

Officials hope the casinos will help Singapore achieve a target of attracting 17 million visitors a year generating over 21 billion US dollars by 2015.

"This second casino is another boost to the economy, which has been doing much better," said economist David Cohen at research house Action Economics.

"It should support tourist arrivals, and the retail sector should benefit from that especially now in the midst of the improving global outlook."

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said the two casinos will add depth to Singapore's hospitality industry.

"Singapore is not the cheapest place to come to but it offers something different for travellers either for leisure or business," he told AFP.

After shrinking 2.0 percent last year, Singapore's trade-reliant economy is projected to grow by up to nine percent this year, the government said.

But economists said the additional boost from the services sector, which includes tourism, could enable Singapore to surpass the targets.

Marina Bay Sands is designed to cater to the corporate and convention crowd while Resorts World is aimed at families.

The Marina Bay Sands casino will offer 600 gaming tables, more than 1,500 slot machines and over 30 private gaming rooms. It occupies four floors, the bottom two for mass gaming and the upper section for premium players.

The Resorts World complex, located on Sentosa island, includes Southeast Asia's only Universal Studios movie theme park, hotels, restaurants and convention facilities.

Adelson told reporters the two casinos should "work together" to bring in more visitors.

"Our success doesn't depend on their failure, neither does their success depend on our failure," said Adelson, who flew in for the opening.

Carter Lee, 60, who had flown from Hawaii was among dozens of punters wanting to get their first try at the casino.

"If my luck is running good, I'll spend more. If it's down, I'll get up and walk away," he told AFP.

Lee Kim Lian, 68, from Kuala Lumpur, said she arrived Monday with 10,000 Singapore dollars (7,300 US) in cash.

"I'll call my friends and family in Kuala Lumpur to come down tonight," she said.

plj-mba/dan

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