Posts Tagged ‘Singapore casinos’

Macau wannabes court Singapore model

April 8, 2014

Asian governments licking their chops over Macau’s casino driven budget surpluses, high visitor numbers, and low unemployment turn to Singapore’s development model to try their luck.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Shot down by Chairman Sheldon

April 14, 2012

Covering the Sands Cotai Central opening on April 12 included attending the news conference with top executives of Sands China and its parent company Las Vegas Sands (LVS). That put me squarely in the sights of the billionaire chairman of both companies, Sheldon Adelson.

During the question and answer period, I introduced myself as Muhammad Cohen from Asia Times and Macau Business, then asked company executives whether they regretted their decision in the face of the 2008 credit crunch to continue building Marina Bay Sands in Singapore while mothballing Sands Cotai Central, initially slated to open in 2009. The Wall Street-led crisis drove LVS to the brink of bankruptcy, requiring a $2 billion lifeline from Adelson. Marina Bay Sands, which cost nearly $6 billion, has become the most profitable casino resort in the world in operating terms. With its delay, Sands Cotai Central has cost $4.4 billion, making it Macau’s most expensive resort to date.

LVS president and chief operating office Michael Leven explained that Marina Bay Sands was already fully financed before the crisis hit, while Sands Cotai Central was only partially funded, based on lenders preferences for the two projects. “I regret that we didn’t complete [Sands Cotai Central] two-and-a-half years ago, because Macau would now be further ahead,” Leven added. “We’re really happy to be able to open it today. This puts the exclamation point at the end of the sentence. It’s a game changer for MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions] in Macau.”

As I furiously scribbled what Leven had said, I heard Chairman Adelson say my name as he unloaded with both barrels.

“I’ve read what you’ve written, Muhammad, and it’s not true,” the 78 year old worth $24.9 billion said. “We didn’t take the money from Macau to Singapore. Not a single pataca, not a single penny went from here to Las Vegas, or from here to Singapore.”

There’s not much I could say in response to that kind of public shoot-down, particularly when it comes from the most powerful man in the global gaming industry, accompanied by his band of security guards. And especially since I never wrote what Adelson said I did.

The charge that LVS has used its Macau profits elsewhere has been raised. Macau Business made reference to that sentiment when it reported Adelson’s earlier “not one pataca” denial a couple of years ago, But I’ve certainly never written that LVS is taking money from Macau for projects elsewhere. The real issue, which neither Leven nor Adelson addressed, was the local political damage done. A lot of people remember that LVS continued work in Singapore while pausing in Cotai during Macau’s moment of crisis, the one time during the company’s Macau tenure when the city really needed the construction jobs and related commerce. Macau also presents a far more important long term opportunity than Singapore, where revenue growth has already shown signs of stagnation and government regulations restrict opportunities.

I spent the rest of Sands Cotai’s opening day basking my ill-gotten notoriety, refuting my culpability to all I met, from Sands China president and CEO Edward Tracy to analysts who suddenly recognized me. “At least he knows your name,” several consoled me.

Sipping champagne ahead of the black tie gala dinner (to which my invitation must have been lost), I managed to issue my denial to Dr Miriam Adelson, the chairman’s wife during the course of a delightful chat. I hope she passed the word to the next pillow.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Singapore lifts the lid on gambling junkets

April 10, 2012

My report on Singapore’s decision to license two Malaysian junket promoters is in the April issue of Macau Business. Buy the magazine at fine news dealers throughout Macau and Hong Kong or look for it online at Macau Business Digital later this month, where every issue is archived.

I’m currently in Macau for the opening of Sands Cotai Central and will cover the event for Asia Times. I’ll post some further impressions here after that article is published.

Singapore Business Review also asked me to comment on the city-state’s initial licensed junket operators, or as Singapore’s Casino Regulatory Authority prefers International Marketing Agents (IMAs). The article was posted this week with my edited comments and those of other experts this week.

Here’s a full transcript of my comments to SBR:

“The decision to license two small junket promoters reminds me of Singapore bringing in the Crazy Horse topless show. It’s a way for the authorities to provide evidence that they’re willing to take risks through a virtually meaningless gesture.

What’s most revealing is that eight years after the authorities decided to embark on casino legalization and two years after the first casino opened its doors, with no licenses granted to junket promoters and thus no experience of seeing how junkets would operate in Singapore, the regulator thought that it needed to issue more stringent rules. That belies the common notion of Singapore as a well-run, transparent jurisdiction with smart people in charge.

Licensing more junkets would relieve the official schizophrenia over high rollers. On one hand, Singapore taxes their gaming revenue at 5 percent [vs 15 percent for mass market play], but on the other hand, it won’t license any agents to bring them to the casinos. Throughout Asia, junkets are an important part of attracting VIPs – casinos can’t duplicate junkets’ overseas outreach efforts and range of services. As veteran gaming consultant Mike Gore told me, “Junkets work hard for their money.” They know their market, they know their customers, and they speak their language. All of that matters.

Having more junkets doesn’t mean being less particular about who gets licensed, but it does mean doing the job faster and more efficiently. Right now, applicants need to supply vast amounts of information including a 40 page application form with no guarantee of a timely response. Surely, the government can do better than that.

The casinos have always been about bringing in foreign high rollers, so you’d hope the authorities would get more proactive about it. Rather than just sitting around waiting for applications and processing them at the glacial pace, why not reach out to honest businesses in related fields and encourage them to become IMAs. There may be some regulatory hurdles, but why not consider having junket promoters linked to overseas branches of DBS or Singapore Airlines? If you want an honest casino industry, then encourage honest companies to find ways to participate scrupulously and profitably.

For that same reason, Singapore should publish comprehensive gaming revenue statistics, as Macau does, to help other companies better understand what’s happening in the casinos and where the opportunities may be.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Singapore beats Las Vegas at its own game

January 9, 2012

Gaming industry analysts project that Singapore beat Las Vegas in casino revenue last year. That’s incredible given that Singapore’s two casinos were in their first full year of operation and total 320,000 square feet of gaming floor, while the Las Vegas Strip has decades of glamorous history, 39 casinos and nearly 3 million square feet of tables and slot machines

The Lion City’s success underscores the gaming industry’s argument that there’s huge unsatisfied demand for casinos in Asia. As I report in Asia Times, other countries in the region hope to copy Singapore’s model of casino development.

Singapore insisted that developers invest billions of dollars to build not just casino hotels, but integrated resorts (IRs) that feature a wide variety of non-gaming attractions. With Resorts World Sentosa weeks away from its second anniversary, the IRs no longer resemble construction sites and have become much more hospitable to visitors.

Marina Bay Sands had a severe fun deficit in its early days. But the world’s most expensive casino resort has blossomed into a destination worthy of its stunning architectural wrapper. Since the resort’s grand opening in June 2010, new additions include US import clubs Pangaea and Avalon, the first Singapore outpost of Banyan Tree Spa, a world class museum, and an ice skating rink, plus restaurants and bars overlooking the bay. Those new attractions along with the presence of people actively engaging the property, have overcome the initial imposing cathedral atmosphere. The arrival of Singapore’s MRT mass transit line this month will bring bigger crowds to add to the fun, and to Singapore’s lead over Las Vegas.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Titanic lands in Singapore

December 31, 2011

One hundred years after its fateful maiden voyage, the Titanic has landed in Singapore. The blockbuster exhibition of facts and artifacts runs through the centennial of the infamous ocean liner’s sailing in April at the Marina Bay Sands’ ArtScience Museum.

Singapore’s casino resorts both include a museum among numerous non-gaming attractions the government required in the bidding for a gaming license. The Maritime Experiential Museum and Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa and its counterpart are both state of the art facilities with impressive designs and price tags to match.

As I report in the December issue of Macau Business, the Titanic exhibition showcases the extraordinary versatility of the ArtScience Museum and the skill of its curatorial staff. It’s well worth the rather stiff S$24 (US$18.50) price of admission, even if you have no prior interest in the ship, have never seen the movie, and loath its theme song.

There are other titanic happenings in Singapore’s casino industry that you can read about soon in Asia Times. Until then, thanks for your interest and support throughout the year. Best to you and your loved ones for 2012.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Yale brings liberal arts to illiberal Singapore

September 19, 2011

In the West, Singapore has a well-crafted reputation as the little engine that could, and that does it on time. It’s a charming image that’s almost completely false.

Singapore receives ritual designation annually as the world’s second freest economy, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, from America’s rightwing Heritage Foundation. Singapore’s mythical status as a corruption-free zone is built on the twin pillars of selective law enforcement, such as ignoring widespread reports of unlicensed promoters illegally bringing higher rollers to its two enormously profitable casinos, and lack of laws against practices considered corrupt in the West, including conflict of interest and trade restraining practices. Though it presents itself as a parliamentary democracy, Singapore’s government deploys its full rage of powers to sustain the ruling party’s reign and suppress political free expression.

In its own neighborhood, people know Singapore as the preferred destination for wealth, legally obtained or otherwise. When Singapore says it wants to become the Switzerland of Asia, it’s not talking about tropical alpine skiing. While spouting pieties, Singapore bathes in filthy money stolen from the poor of Asia and beyond, and hypocrisy breeds contempt.

So it comes as a surprise and disappointment that Yale University has fallen for Singapore’s propaganda. Yale will build its first branch campus in the city-state. Bringing liberal arts to an illiberal place, Yale won zero concessions from Singapore on free speech issues and thinks the new campus will help elevate its reputation in Asia. Enjoy your Singapore sting on the rocks, Yalies.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Singapore casinos beat long odds

June 30, 2011

Bulletin (new date): My interview on Macau’s TDM Talk Show will be televised on its Portuguese channel on Saturday, July 2 at 8pm (Macau/Hong Kong/China time; Saturday 8am US Eastern time) and be repeated Sunday night/Monday morning at 12.30 am. After the initial airing, you can watch it on the TDM website via the TDM Talk Show link. Hope you’ll tune in for my talk (in English) with Natalya Molok about Macau gaming, Hong Kong On Air – the perfect read for this Hong Kong Reunification Day weekend, as well as July 4th – and Writing Camp.

Plenty of experts doubted that Singapore’s experiment with two casinos would succeed. Not because of Singapore’s straitlaced reputation, nor because of unprecedented public opposition to the so-called integrated resorts (IRs). The issue was money.

Marina Bay Sands at $6.9 billion and Resorts World Sentosa at $5.7 billion are the two most expensive casino resorts ever built. (MGM’s $9 billion-plus City Center in Las Vegas includes residential and office components.) “They’ll have to be much more successful than the most profitable casino in history,” a skeptical analyst told me while the IRs were under construction.

A year after the grand opening of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore’s two IRs have become the world’s two most profitable casino resorts, helping fuel a tourism boom in Singapore. Yet, as I wrote in Asia Times, there’s little joy over the achievement.

Earlier this year, I highlighted the fun gap at Marina Bay Sands amid its renowned architecture. That report in Macau Business also examined the odd departure of Marina Bay Sands CEO Thomas Arasi after delivering company record profits. Sometimes, it seems, money alone can’t buy happiness.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Singapore casino revenue remains a gamble

November 19, 2010

I’m a big fan of Fareed Zakaria, and Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN is must-see TV for me. That’s why I was so disappointed last week when he touted Singapore as the “top-ranked innovator on the globe” during his cyber-guided of a government-sponsored high tech research center. I told him so in an email with the subject line “Singa-puffery” that read:

Shame on you (and CNN, where I worked as a producer) for broadcasting this propaganda. I wish you’d instead used your considerable skill and clout to report on Singapore’s suppression of freedom, its nepotism, and its economic shenanigans at home and abroad. As a reporter attempting to cover Singapore, I know the kinds of obstacles you’d face. But, yes, the cyber-guides and the trains do indeed run on time.

Highlighting the sunny side of Singapore reinforces the government’s mythology that creativity can flourish under its particular brand of political, economic and social repression. Despite sky high white collar wages and living standards, housing subsidies, and international crossroads status, one of Singapore’s biggest challenges is keeping its best and brightest from migrating overseas.

Fallout from Singapore’s suppression and its “we’ll tell you what we want, when we want” approach spreads far and wide. Casinos, the latest big thing in Singapore, don’t escape.

Thanks to the government’s low priority on transparency, casino operators’ third quarter reports leave investors guessing about the size of Singapore’s gambling market. Analysts and investors also must guess about the split of the market between visitors and local residents. As I wrote in Asia Times, Singaporeans may face further restrictions on gambling if the government thinks they’re spending too much at the casinos, so the local market share number really matters. Singapore’s government has data that could shed light on this critical statistic, but it chooses not to reveal it. In fact, the government has not released any gambling statistics, except for a few random scraps mainly in response to questions in Parliament, since the first bet was placed in February.

Macau provides a full range of monthly and quarterly gambling statistics so that investors can make informed choices about its casino operators and build businesses to complement the gambling trade. Seeing Macau, no paragon of information freedom, beating it on a matter of transparency and openness should help Singapore realize it has a serious problem – and fix it.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Singapore keeps experimenting

July 5, 2010

While in Singapore for the grand opening of the Marina Bay Sands casino resort, I had an evening out with Dennis Foo, CEO of Saint James Holdings and Singapore’s leading nightlife impresario. We started at Saint James Power Station, a ten club complex that Foo created inside a decommissioned electric generating plant. The different room feature entertainment from Canto pop to hard rock to Paraguayan acoustic, and, even on a Wednesday night during World Cup, the place was hopping.

After giving me the tour, Foo suggested we check out Shanghai Dolly. As in most Foo’s clubs, live entertainment is big part of the Shanghai Dolly experience. There are about 20 Shanghai Dollies, including some male Dollies, singing mainly in Mandarin and dancing in the vast downstairs bar area with tables and a dance floor. In the best tradition of modern Singapore, the show is sexy but not sleazy. Upstairs, there’s a restaurant that serves food until 3:30am, and a piano lounge, where a Dolly tickles the ivories and sings alone with a partner. A fellow patron assured me that I could request songs in English.

Shanghai Dolly’s success seems natural; Foo claims it’s the highest grossing club in Singapore – but Foo reminded me that he took over the site from Crazy Horse Paris. Singapore’s government brought in a branch of the French topless cabaret to boost tourism and demonstrate that it had grown up into a modern, progressive city, no more nanny state. Crazy Horse was a dismal failure. Singapore’s casino resorts are another bold step with the same aim. As I wrote in Asia Times, even the boldest step is simply the first step along a lengthy road to success, or failure.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Casinos make bad bets in Asia

May 7, 2010

The world’s two most expensive casino resorts are now open in Singapore, whether the Lion City likes it or not. As I wrote in Asia Times, Singapore didn’t want casinos, just the theme park, convention center, museums and other attractions that it was able to squeeze out the developers in exchange for allowing the gambling dens. However, Singapore’s nanny state ways limit casino revenue. That promises trouble for developers Las Vegas Sands and Malaysia’s Genting Group that are investing a combined $10 billion in their resorts, and for Singapore, too.

Singapore isn’t the only Asian city where casino developers are placing bad bets. Billionaire Steve Wynn’s infatuation with China’s government and disdain for the Obama administration got another airing at last month’s debut of his Encore Macau property. Wynn’s plan to plunk down another couple billion dollars in Macau illustrates precisely why to be wary of Macau, especially if you’re Steve Wynn.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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