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  The Straits Times 2 Dec 06
After casinos, a state of mind?

THE casino concept which had half the nation mightily opposed is looking like an inspired choice.

The leisure industry would not have failed to notice the catalytic effect the high-priced bidding for the two casino licences in Marina Bay and Sentosa is having on tourism planning.

The competing packages for the Sentosa resort have such creative freshness one wished Singapore could accommodate more than only the winning bid.

But the trickle-down effect is showing. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is inviting international leisure groups to offer ideas that would make the Southern Islands a shout away from Sentosa a new fixture on the international leisure circuit.

The bet on the overlooked islands, which have drawn mainly day trippers and devotional pilgrims, could yet draw a blank for a variety of reasons.

But the STB would be foolish not to ride the momentum while leisure operators and investors have their focus on Singapore.

Until the casino contestants surprised with the size of their financial outlay (averaging $5 billion) and the quality of their offerings besides the gambling element, STB promotions had chiefly been formulaic, focused on reinforcing known strengths like the shopping and the eating.

The casino stimulus could yet set Singapore off on a new cycle of building tourism fixed assets and tangible tourist products.

Not counting the failed attempt to preserve the soul of Chinatown after its sadly plasticised rehabilitation, the last product that sold well has been the Night Safari. In asset accumulation, the Esplanade arts centre which opened in 2002 barely makes the definition of a tourist draw but it has surprisingly turned out to be one.

In the case of the Southern Islands, ideas chewed on have tended to be mainly of a high-yield, select market type of tourism. A favourite concept is of a secluded haunt for the rich, a cross between the Caribbean's hedonism and the chic of the South of France, gambling included.

The cluster of islets possibly could work as a marina for the international yacht-owning set.

All pie in the sky, it must sound.

But let the leisure industry's experts and moneybags work their surprises.

They have with the casinos. When this idea was broached, the expectation was that there would be swanky gambling halls (of course), convention centres (as required) and dinner-and-show formulations (as in Las Vegas).

Few Singaporeans could have made the connection with un-casino brands like Universal Studios, Frank Gehry, Vera Wang and the Bahamian Atlantis. Even Pele gets into the act.

If a gambling licence could draw such, might the Southern Islands fancy its chances as a state of mind, maybe like Tahiti?

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