Football academy may feature in Singapore casino

One of three bidders for a tropical casino-resort site on Sentosa Island, just off the main coast of Singapore, is proposing a soccer academy as a special sports feature. This will be the second casino-resort in the island republic that has turned to gambling in its bid to reinvent itself as a fun tourism destination. With the opening of these world-class integrated resorts in 2009-2010 the authorities are hoping to double visitor arrivals to 17 million by 2015 and triple tourism spending to US$19.2 billion.

The first site, a 51-acre piece of prime waterfront real estate in the Marina Bay financial district, was awarded in May to Las Vegas Sands Corp, to develop a $3.2 billion resort with a strong convention and entertainment component. By contrast, the Singapore government stipulated in the bidding guidelines that the 122-acre site on Sentosa Island should have a strong tourism focus. The winning bidder for the Sentosa site will be picked in December.

The US$3.3 billion bid by Malaysia's Genting International with Universal Studios includes Universal's latest rides, the world's largest oceanarium allowing visitors to snorkel and dive with whale sharks, a "swim with the dolphin experience" designed and operated by Dolphin Quest of Honolulu, a maritime museum and water park and a football academy.

According to Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop of Las Vegas Gaming Wire, gaming operators are increasingly seeing gaming revenue in Asia as a plump cherry. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers states global revenue from gambling is expected to rise 8.8 percent annually from $82.2 billion in 2005 to $125 billion in 2010. At $23 billion, Asia Pacific will account for about a fifth of the global turnover, and will be the fastest growing market with annual growth at 14 percent.

"Some observers say Macau is poised to pass the Strip as the world's largest gambling destination. Gambling revenue in the city rose by 37 percent to $576 million in September with the opening of the $1.2 billion Wynn Macau, and the trend will only continue as more casinos open up there. Two weeks ago, Macau opened its 23rd casino, Star World, and another operator is expected to open the Babylon casino by the end of the year," she wrote.

Sean Monaghan, gaming analyst at Merrill Lynch, explains the fierce competition in Singapore by two critical issues of scarcity and value: "Sentosa is one of the last real opportunities, within the next two years, for major new casinos in emerging markets. The country has excellent regulation, great security and infrastructure, and great taxation, which is why bidders have pitched the largest ever financial commitments for such projects." Bidders anticipate the ratio of casino revenue to non-gaming revenues at Sentosa to be much higher than in Las Vegas. So far, Genting's bid has been widely touted in the local press as the front runner.