Thursday, April 21, 2005

The casino issue is really just a big poker game between the government and the gaming companies

Hui Chieh is calling for papers from the local blogsphere on reactions to the casino issue over at Singapore Angle. Do take a look if you want to contribute your thoughts. Here's what I think. Personally, I don't mind the lifting of the ban on casinos. I do know for a fact that because of the existence of a casino, many families would be hurt, the social and personal cost can't be quantified; monetary value or otherwise. However, from a public policy point of view, I would not object against a casino, per se. For example, we do know for a fact that if we ban cars on the road, there will be less people getting killed on the roads. Despite this, we don't ban cars. The problem I have is that MM Lee's press release seems to suggest that the government is in the defensive, rather then being in offence. He stressed that "we cannot afford not to have the casino". That's a reactive position. (For non-Singaporean readers, MM stands for Minister Mentor. MM Lee is the founder of modern Singapore who currently runs a mentorship program for new ministers.) What led him to say that? Well, he mentioned that in the 19 proposals that were received, the foreign gaming firms did say that they aren't just going to be only interested in Singapore. Like it or not, they're going to set up shop in neighbouring countries. If you don't agree to our proposals, you'll become an also-ran when the neighbouring casinos are built. Essentially, this whole setup is like poker. The gaming companies have uped the ante very cleverly. Here're our cards. Do you wanna fold? Or do you wanna call our bluff? And we decide to call their bluff! To be fair, there's nothing wrong with that, if indeed it's justified. But the negativity and lack of confidence disturbs me. Prime Minister Lee (for non-Singaporean readers, the PM has the surname as MM Lee because he's his son) says,"
"If we proceed, the IRs [integrated resorts, politically correct term for shopping malls + rides + casino] may not succeed, or the social fallout may be worse than we expect. If we do not proceed, we are at serious risk of being left behind by other cities. After weighing the matter carefully, the Cabinet has collectively concluded that we had no choice but to proceed with the IRs. As Prime Minister, I carry the ultimate responsibility for the decision."
I have a problem with that. Why is this casino so important for the continual survival of Singapore? Do tourists really look at whether a country has a casino before planning their itinerary? (I know I don't!) How big is this market anyway? I'd love to see some numbers. Also, he says 'we have no choice'. If that is indeed true, then gosh, I think we're in really big trouble here! If really no choice, haiz, no need consult anyone already lah! 越快建起来越好! Something smells fishy, and it ain't the chips. I fear we may be paying the price for not being good gamblers; we might have just lost the first round of poker with the big gaming companies...


Huichieh said...

Trackback: From a Singapore Angle: Blogosphere reactions to the Casino/Integrated Resort decision 2005.

wandie said...

Well I agree with you that tourists don't normally plan their trips around a casino. But you have to remember that Singapore isn't exactly a hot tourist destination in itself. We've always been a pit stop destination for the travellers heading further east and down under. And what better way to cure the jet lag blues than by camping out in a windowless casino?

quetelet said...

Wandie: camping out in the windowless casino simply means they don't go around wandering around Singapore :) It might even have the reverse effect of having more money spent within the casino, rather than on local tourist attractions or shopping centres.

Jeff: The portrayal of IRs as the only solution to save Singapore is ridiculous at best. What it has now created, might be a race to the bottom. Singapore's betting on being the first and the most glam, so our casino(s) will be exclusive. But look at what's happened - *many* local clubs have applied for licenses to operate new or more jackpot machines; even indonesia is reconsidering their laws on gambling now (quite a few ST articles earlier). We won't be as exclusive then, and gambling facilities will flood the region, making a dent in the economic argument for the casino. We're explaining it away by positioning it as IRs, but I remain to be convinced as to how glam this can actually become, to rival other spectacular attractions like the HK disneyland, or other landmarks/experiences around the Asian region.

On top of it all, is our culture so artificial and devoid of ideas as to see IRs as the *only* solution? Where were the feedback sessions, and what were the alternatives being considered?

jeffyen said...

The feedback section is actually very important.

They actually help to develop the final speeches in Parliament! :)