Singapore Casinos Will Spur Gaming Growth in Asia

SINGAPORE -- Singapore's recent decision to lift its ban on casino gambling will likely lead more Asian countries to follow suit, gaming companies said Wednesday.

Since Singapore in April gave the go-ahead to build two casino resorts, more than a dozen gaming industry heavyweights, including Harrah's Entertainment Inc., have lined up to bid for the projects.

"Once people see Singapore, what they're doing and the kind of level of interest and investment, and driving of tourism and jobs, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that other countries in the region are not going to open up," said Richard Mirman, senior vice president of business development at Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

Mirman was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the two-day Asian Casinos Expo in Singapore, which brings together gambling companies to discuss casino development in Asia and showcases new gaming technology.

Singapore's casinos are expected to be completed by 2009, and the city-state's plan to build them as part of larger entertainment complexes would suit other Asian countries, industry officials said.

"The Singapore government have got it absolutely right in its request for an integrated tourism resort," said Asian Casinos Expo chairman David Elliott.

"It's something the community in Asia will be quite receptive of because it ensures there will be a maximum amount of opportunity for employment and a maximum amount of opportunity for community benefit," he added.

The region's casino industry is worth about US$20 billion (EUR 16.57 billion) annually and some analysts predict the Chinese enclave of Macau -- Asia's top draw -- will surpass Las Vegas as the world's largest gambling market this year.

Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and South Korea also currently operate casinos. Analysts predict that Thailand and Japan, which have no casinos now, will have three and 10 respectively within the next five years.