terça-feira, 3 de novembro de 2009

A concorrência (que virá) de Singapura

Singapore casinos to raise the stakes
Big-budget resorts bet on 'wow' factors such as theme parks to lure punters from Macau

Neil Gough, in Singapore
South China Morning Post
November 02, 2009

Macau may be Asia's Las Vegas, but Singapore is lifting the ante in a matter of months with the opening of two of the most expensive casino resorts in the world.

The final budget has not yet been set for Las Vegas Sands Corp's 2,500-room Marina Bay Sands, due to begin opening in phases from early next year. But at about US$6 billion, the latest cost estimates make it more than twice as expensive to build as the company's 3,000-room Venetian Macao and five times as much as rival Wynn Macau.

Trailing not far behind by project cost is the 59-hectare Resorts World theme park resort on Sentosa Island being built by Malaysia's Genting Group, the second half of the rising Singaporean duopoly.

Genting's resort will cost an estimated US$4.7 billion at current exchange rates - still almost double the cost of the Venetian Macao, the world's largest casino.

However, in addition to hefty project budgets, which are being financed largely by loans from Singaporean banks, a number of challenging regulatory and strategic questions remain over exactly how the city state's twin casinos will stack up against Macau and other destinations in competing for Asia's gambling dollars.

Both the city state's casino developers are betting big that "wow" factors such as a 200-metre-high "skypark" or a 24-ride Universal Studios theme park will lure punters, business travellers and holidaymakers from across Asia to their Singapore resorts.

"It's going to be a destination by itself," says Marina Bay Sands' executive vice-president of operations Ronen Nissenbaum. "People will come to Singapore to be at this site and say: 'I've been there, I've done that, I've got the T-shirt'."

The three 55-storey towers of Marina Bay Sands have already topped off and construction workers last week were busy installing a labyrinth of ventilation ducts. The resort plans to go from 350 staff to 10,000 as it opens in phases from early next year.

The roof of the towering project will feature a "skypark" that is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall and includes a huge swimming pool, viewing platform and a number of bars and restaurants.

Also on offer will be six celebrity chef restaurants, more than 300 retail shops including a "Louis Vuitton Island" accessed by underwater tunnel, a convention centre and two theatres that will open with Disney's Lion King stage musical as one of the resident shows.

The casino at the resort will span 15,000 square metres of gaming space over four floors, including two floors dedicated to VIP gaming. The property will employ 4,500 casino-focused staff, according to executives.

The hotel will feature just under 2,500 standard rooms and, for the ultra-big spenders, 230 suites that range from two to 10 rooms and cover 743 square metres. "Our rates are going to be the highest in the market," Nissenbaum said.

Genting's Sentosa project is set to open early next year with the Universal theme park and rides such as duelling roller coasters, a Jurassic Park-themed water ride and a Shrek-themed fantasy land. It will also launch with the casino, a theatre, restaurants and four of six hotels that will total 1,800 rooms.

"There will be gaming, definitely. But in terms of positioning, we see that we are going to be different from Macau," said Edward Koh Boon Wee, the Singapore Tourism Board's chief representative and regional director for Greater China. "Singapore has always been perceived as a very family-friendly destination and we want to continue with that image."

In terms of pure casino economics, Singapore should be extremely competitive in luring high rollers, which account for about 65 per cent of all casino winnings in Macau.

The effective tax rate on VIP gaming revenue in Singapore is 12 per cent, compared with 39 per cent in Macau. This means casinos in Singapore are free to pay out higher levels of rebates to high-stakes players, a common practice in the industry.

Likewise, casinos will be able to pay higher commissions to VIP junket agents, the marketing middlemen that in Macau and other Asian gaming jurisdictions function as bankers to high rollers.

Junkets bring high-stakes players to casinos, issue them credit for gambling and collect their debts - often through extrajudicial means in places such as China, where gaming debt is not enforceable through the courts.

However, many of the VIP junket agents that operate in Macau may not be licensable in Singapore because of "suitability" requirements, which are expected to be enforced stringently. While both casinos say they plan to open around the first quarter of next year, Singapore has yet to publish detailed regulations on junkets or to begin the licensing process.

"We have reasons to believe that very few, if any, junket reps, particularly of the Macau style, will be allowed or will want to be licensed in Singapore," Las Vegas Sands chairman and majority shareholder Sheldon Adelson said last week on an investors' conference call.

As a result, Marina Bay Sands plans to partially cut out the junket middlemen and will issue credit and rebates directly to players. "We are gearing up for very strong direct credit and direct play," Adelson said.

Perhaps more important will be the mass market, or non-high rollers: the businessmen, tourists, shoppers and local punters who are expected to fill hotel rooms, shopping centres and theme parks and account for most of non-credit casino play.

But Singaporean locals will face an entry fee of S$100 (HK$555) for a single visit to the casino. Problem gamblers will be able to voluntarily add themselves to a list of people excluded from entering the casinos, as in some Western jurisdictions (but not in Macau). But Singapore has taken this concept a step further - allowing concerned family members to add gamblers to the blacklist.

"There's no doubt that an entry fee is a certain barrier; the question is whether it is one that can be easily overcome or not," Nissenbaum said.

"You have to start from a pretence that Singapore did not decide to open these two resorts to make them unsuccessful."

Indeed, when it comes to luring mass-market tourists from the mainland and Hong Kong, Singapore hopes to compete against Macau by selectively targeting bigger spenders.

"Macau and Hong Kong attract more than a million mainland visitors every month and we only attract a million mainland visitors a year," said Koh of the tourism board, which oversaw the casino resort tendering process. "We are reaching out very carefully to the higher-yield markets of the mainland."

And what if Beijing chooses to restrict visas on mainlanders travelling to Singapore? The central government has done as much in regard to Macau since last year in an attempt to control runaway expansion of gambling among mainlanders.

"If the central government felt that there was a threat to [Macau's] gaming revenue or its position as a destination resort, they could change the visa programme for Singapore in 10 seconds," Wynn Resorts chairman Steve Wynn said last week on a conference call.

"Singapore can be very successful in its own right," said Wynn, who withdrew from bidding for a Singapore gaming licence in 2006 and last month listed his Macau business on the Hong Kong stock market. "But it being a threat to Macau is not a thing that we're worried about," he said.

Sem comentários: