As tourism declines, are casinos Singapore's best bet?
WHEN Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) and Marina Bay Sands (MBS) first opened their doors in 2010, Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents (SCPRs) made an average of 20,000 visits to the casinos daily. But last year, this figure declined to 17,000, which is likely due to the novelty factor wearing off and other safeguards such as entry levies, exclusion orders and visit limits. Richard Magnus, chairman of the Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore (CRAS), noted this in CRAS annual report 2012-13.
“Casino entry levies collected in 2012 was about S$174 million. Since 2010, the annual and day levy purchases have, on average, dropped by 20% and 8% yearly respectively,” he added.
Such a decline in local patronage is well-anticipated and much-welcome. Analysts have long argued that major revenue growth for the two casinos in Singapore would be overseas visitors from India, China, Asia-pacific, and the neighbouring ASEAN. And that has been the case.
Singapore has raced on to become the world’s second-most lucrative casino destination, behind Macau, and if a recent Citigroup report is to be believed, the gambling revenues could rise up to US$7 billion in 2014.
This may prove to be a much needed relief for the tourism sector, which is reeling under pressure from a changing landscape. The Monetary Authority of Singapore in its just released figures for the second quarter has registered a decline in tourism-related activities. Air passenger arrivals declined by 0.4% quarter-on-quarter seasonally- adjusted annualised rate in this period, largely due to fewer tourists from China and the EU. Consequently, demand for accommodation services also moderated slightly, with hotel occupancy rates dipping to 86.3%.
Even though the number of locals visiting the casinos is declining, how much these casinos are contributing to “problem gambling” is still debatable.
Lim Hock San, chairman of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) while speaking at the Singapore Problem Gambling Conference 2012, noted, “This year’s event is the first problem gambling conference held after the opening of the casinos in 2010. The two earlier conferences focused on garnering public awareness of problem gambling and nurturing responsible gambling practices by operators. In short, strengthening gamblers’ resolve to cope with the changing gambling landscape in Singapore.”
Also, last year, NCPG announced the findings of its Gambling Prevalence Survey 2011, which noted the startling results that “47 percent of Singapore residents aged 18 and above reported that they have participated in at least one form of gambling activity in the last 12 months”. It also indicated that the “probable pathological gamblers” and “probable problem gamblers” rates among Singapore residents is 1.4% and 1.2% respectively.
The survey classified anyone who had participated in at least one form of gambling in the last 12 months as “gamblers”.
The survey found that the most popular types of gambling activities were 4D (38%), Toto (28%), Singapore Sweep (16%) and social gambling (13%). Interestingly, jackpot machines and table games in the local casinos (IRs) had gambling participation rates of 3 and 4 percent respectively.
More worryingly, the local casinos scored heavily in terms of poor self-control among gamblers. While playing table games in IRs, 26.5% gambled for a longer period of time than planned, 23.5% gambled more money than planned, and 21.3% gambled more frequently than planned. These figures were 19.1%, 14.4% and 10.1% for jackpot machines in IRs.
Chan Chun Sing, acting minister for community development, youth and sports, who also spoke at the NCPG conference highlighted the worrying trends in the survey adding, “Emerging concerns include heavier gambling among a small group of low-income gamblers, frequent gamblers, as well as poorer self-control among online, horse racing and casino gamblers.”