Singapore's decision to open its first casino resorts this year is a bet that appears to be paying off.
One of the two new resorts is the $5-billion Marina Bay Sands. Opened in April, the complex features a casino, a shopping mall, and three hotel towers that are joined at the top by a visually spectacular elevated platform.
In the coming months, Marina Bay Sands developer Las Vegas Sands Corp. plans to finish other parts of the complex, including a museum, theaters and floating pavilions.
Singapore's government approved the building of Marina Bay Sands and the $4-billion Resorts World Sentosa complex to attract more wealthy tourists to the city-state.
Besides a casino, Resorts World Sentosa features a Universal Studios theme park, a Marine Life park, several hotels and a spa. Malaysia's Genting Group opened the complex on Singapore's Sentosa island in January.
Photo Gallery: A Look Inside Singapore's Casino Resorts (Story continues below)
Casino gamble paying off
Officials say the casino resorts helped to bring more than one million tourists to Singapore in July, a record for a one-month period. Arrivals dipped to just under one million in August and September but still set records for those months.
Las Vegas Sands chief executive Sheldon Adelson predicts rising tourism will boost Singapore's annual casino revenues to $6.5 billion by 2012. That would make Singapore's casino industry a bigger money-earner than its Las Vegas counterpart.
Singapore's DBS Bank expects the casino resorts to speed up the nation's economic growth this year by almost one-percentage point to 15 percent.
Weighing the social risks
Singapore's casino experiment has its critics. Georgetown University Professor Pamela Sodhy says Singaporeans who visit casinos may become addicted to gambling and could turn to crime to fund their habit.
In fact, authorities in one of the world’s safest cities have reported cases of casino-related crimes such as identity fraud and mobile phone theft.
Singapore's government has tried to discourage its citizens from using the casinos by making them pay a daily entry fee of US$75 - a charge that does not apply to foreign visitors. It also recently stopped casino operators from providing free bus services to local residents.
It appears some of these measures have not had the desired effect. More than one million Singaporeans visited the two casinos in the seven months since the first one opened. Sodhy, an expert on Southeast Asian history, says some local gamblers also have been betting more money to try to recoup the entry fee.
Singapore's government has downplayed the role of casinos in the complexes by referring to them as "integrated resorts" that offer a variety of attractions. It’s a message that’s in keeping with the city’s conservative image.