20 Apr 04
Casino decision in 9 months
Tor Ching Li
Dr Balakrishnan allays worries of MPs over potential negative impacts
A DECISION for a casino on Sentosa will be made over the next nine
months. This was revealed by Minister of State for Trade and Industry
Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday as he fended off MPs' arguments that
a local casino will up the "sin" factor in Singapore.
Dr Balakrishnan also put down media speculation that the Government
was already in talks with casino operators. To MPs' concerns of a
casino breeding social ills such as class divides, prostitution and
drugs, Dr Balakrishnan assured the House that the Government is "painfully
aware of the potential negative impacts on Singaporeans, especially
those on lower incomes".
But with the rapidly- growing affluence of Asia, the billion-dollar
investments in Macau to make it the Las Vegas of the East, and even
Thailand's recent move to legalise casinos, Dr Balakrishnan said:
"We have to upgrade and broaden our tourism product offering in Singapore."
However, should a casino be built, he added, "access to it by Singaporeans
will have to be controlled".
This prompted MP for Tampines Irene Ng to raise the concern that restricted
access may then lead to class consciousness among Singaporeans. With
Singaporeans working within the casino, she asked: "How are we going
to insulate Singaporeans from gambling? It has been shown that casinos
do lead to higher bankruptcy rates."
Nominated MP Braema Mathi also highlighted problems such as prostitution
and drugs. But Dr Balakrishnan said this is "not the time to indulge
in or create class consciousness or cleavages in our society". He
also added that it was time for Singapore to move away from being
"so middle-of-the-road that it is in danger of being bypassed" — a
criticism from the International Advisory Council for Tourism last
As Singapore builds two- and three-star hotels to cater to more shoestring
tourists who arrive on budget airlines, it must not lose the big-spending
tourists. Said Dr Balakrishnan: "We must be able to attract our share
of the rich and famous for which casinos may be an attraction." If
they're going to lose their money, they're going to lose it our way,