Asia Poised for Casino Boom

AN ASIAN casino renaissance is at hand. A slew of Asian governments are considering allowing casinos to operate on their own soil

Concern remains
Still, there are fears that casinos bring about social ills and this is why governments like Singapore's have long opposed having a casino on its island state. While it is toying with the idea now, Singapore has also hinted that its casinos will only tailor to wealthy locals and foreigners, if it gives the green light. How this will be achieved is still anyone's guess, but one concept being bandied about is for the casino to charge exorbitant membership fees to locals. Incidentally, Cambodia's sole casino, Nagacorp owned and run by Malaysian Chen Lip Kiong, does not admit Cambodians for the same reason of preventing social ills.

Growth industry
The new supply of casinos in Southeast Asia will likely come in countries like Singapore and Thailand, which are in advanced stages of considering changing their laws to make it possible to issue licences for casinos to operate on their shores. Indonesia is also believed to be looking into lifting its ban on casinos and so too are Japan and Taiwan. South Korea, which already has a number of casinos, is also expected to liberalise its casino operations further by issuing new licences.

As for countries which are leading in the casino business, they are sprucing up what they have to offer to stay ahead of the game. In the Philippines, the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (know as the Pagcor group) is planning a US$ 15-billion mega project in Manila Bay, which will comprise casinos, theme parks, hotels, shopping malls and condominiums. Macau, which is Asia's gambling capital, is expected to get even bigger with its three existing players planning to invest a few billion US dollars over the next few years on large-scale casino projects with family attractions.

As for Malaysia, there have been talks in the past that a new casino licence would be issued to a second player, however, to date, it remains a mere speculation. The Genting group remains the sole casino operator in the country. Hence Genting's only foreseeable competition will come from new casinos that may come up in the region once some countries relax their anti-gambling laws to allow the building of casinos. Incidentally, Genting itself is gearing up for the looming competition by adding 3,000 more hotel rooms at its hilltop casino resort by the end of February 2006, besides initiating various programmes designed to woo gamblers and tourists. It is also placing its wagers elsewhere by boosting its power generation business.