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Gambling Beyond Nevada: Casino Groups Pursue Singapore

1 March 2005

Nevada's major casino companies all submitted bids Monday to develop a resort in Singapore that will include gaming to lure tourists to the island-state.

Wynn Resorts Ltd., MGM Mirage, Harrah's Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands Corp. were among the gaming companies that submitted proposals to the Singapore government covering two potential resort sites.

Last year, the Singapore Tourism Board requested proposals by the end of February for potential casino locations at Marina Bayfront on a downtown Singapore waterfront site or on Sentosa Island.

One Wall Street gaming analyst said a Singapore casino could be lucrative, worth between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

Singapore's plans for a resort are aimed at helping the city double its annual visitor total to 17 million within the next 10 years and triple tourist spending.

To accomplish that task, the government may scrap a long-standing ban on casinos to attract visitors to the island, which is within six hours flying time for more than 2.5 billion people. The Singapore government will decide in April if it will allow casinos. If casinos are approved, there will be another round of bidding.

MGM Mirage is bidding for the downtown site with CapitaLand Ltd., Singapore's biggest developer.

"We submitted a detailed concept for a project that would enhance Singapore's tourist market," said MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman. "Singapore may have the most thoughtful and delineative process of any (potential gaming jurisdiction) we have seen as a company."

CapitaLand is also partnering with Kerzner International Ltd., owner of the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, in a bid for the Sentosa site.

Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns The Venetian, submitted a bid without a Singapore-based partner for the Marina Bayfront location.

In a statement, Las Vegas Sands said its concept was " a compelling proposal to develop and build an integrated resort that will dramatically increase tourism in Singapore."

A Sands spokesman said the company will continue exploring the possibility of working with "an appropriate local partner."

Keppel Land Ltd., Singapore's third-largest developer by assets, and Harrah's, which will become the world's largest casino operator once it completes its $9.4 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment, also submitted a proposal.

The companies said last week they would jointly seek a mandate to run a casino, with Harrah's owning at least 70 percent of the project.

Wynn Resorts submitted a proposal for the Marina Bayfront location.

"Our design for the marina will lead the way to Singapore becoming a regional tourist destination," Wynn Resorts President Ron Kramer said in a statement. "It will give those who come a reason to extend their stays and give those who don't a reason to make Singapore their destination."

The government is considering building the resort on a downtown waterfront site or on the island of Sentosa, though it may also allow development at both sites. The resort may include hotels, a convention center, retail outlets and restaurants, the government has said.

"A casino will generate a substantial contribution to the service and tourism-related sectors and it will be positive for the economy," said Pang Shun Pen, who helps manage $400 million in Asia, excluding Japan, at HSZ Singapore Pte. "There's also the spillover effect to airlines, hotels and other segments."

Melco International Development Ltd., controlled by billionaire Macau gaming tycoon Stanley Ho, has also submitted a bid, said a company spokeswoman. Melco is jointly bidding with Australian-based Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., a gaming and media company owned by Kerry Packer.

Any casino would be the island-state's first legal gambling house since Singapore's independence four decades ago. Singapore allows betting on horse races and lotteries.

Singapore faces growing competition from Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong in retaining its 6 percent share of Asia Pacific's tourism revenue, Trade Minister Lim Hng Kiang said last month.

The success of casinos in Macau, a Chinese city close to Hong Kong, and talk of expanded gaming in Asian countries, including Hong Kong, China, Japan and Thailand, prompted Singapore to invite bids.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.