Values or Casino?
Tan Soo San
The political leadership in Singapore had just made a transition. The rein of power was
handed over from outgoing PM Mr Goh Chok Tong to new PM Lee Hsien Loong on 12 August
2004. In PM Lee’s National Day Rally speech on 22 August 2004, he announced his plan to
study proposals and gather feedback on whether to open a casino in Singapore (see excerpt
of his speech in Appendix 1). This had a personal implication for Private Secretary for PM
Lee, Mr Wong Kah Heng. PM Lee had instructed Mr Wong to study the proposals and
present a progress report with a recommended strategy by 1 November 2004. This will
allow the Cabinet to consider the issue and reach a decision by 1 January 2005, as PM Lee
had promised to Singaporeans in his Rally speech. If the Cabinet decides to go ahead with
the casino, it will need to implement this policy through changing the existing anti-gambling
laws and related legislation accordingly. The project will also be opened to developers and
operators interested in building and running the casino.
When Mr Wong returned to his office on 23 August 2004, he knew that he had to start the
ball rolling quickly. He immediately made phone calls to his colleagues in the relevant
agencies which have been involved in different aspects of the issue in the past few months.
Mr Wong requested the following to come for a meeting at his office on 27 August 2004:
1. Ms Lai Soo Ting, Director of Trade, Ministry of Trade and Industry
2. Mr Alfred Gomez, Director of Asia-Pacific Region, Singapore Tourism Board
3. Mr Chin Tong Min, Director of Family and Youth, Ministry of Community Development,
Youth and Sports
The idea of legalizing casinos is not new. In the past, various economic planning committees
have cited it as a possible new opportunity for creating jobs and increasing tourism flows.
For example, as a result of the 1985 recession, some officials proposed setting up casinos as
part of a new economic strategy. However, in view of the social and moral objections put
forward by sectors of the community such as religious groups and sociologists, the issue was
put on the backburner. No one wanted to open the Pandora’s Box. The political leadership,
including then Prime Minister Goh in 1991, openly maintained a stand that casinos would not
be allowed to operate in Singapore as long as he was in charge.
The Singapore Government has perceived that more and more casinos were being
established all over the world. Many other countries are also grappling with the issue of
amending their anti-gambling laws to allow casinos. Proponents of the casino project argue
that Singapore would lose out in its status as a tourist hub as well as the economic benefits
from tax revenues if it did not follow the global trend. The UK had announced plans to
locate a mega-casino in the newly-built Millennium Dome and establish it as a gaming hub in
Europe. In Asia, Mr Stanley Ho, who owns the Macau casino, had made new plans to invest
another US$380 million to boost his casino and entertainment projects.
The rise of China and its potential as a source for tourism flows made it more compelling for
national tourism agencies to think again about how to lure the tourism dollars into their own
countries. Further, many Singaporeans already venture abroad via cruises on floating
casinos or visit the neighbouring Malaysia’s Gentling Highlands casino resort. This is
perceived as a loss of national income leaking to other countries.
The idea of casinos was revisited by Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry, George
Yeo in March 2004 in Parliament. Since then, it had generated substantial and intense
public debate. Three religious organizations have protested against the idea by releasing
statements to their members. Some of these letters were reported by the press. These
were the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), the Singapore Islamic Scholars
and Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) and the Catholic Church.
The casino issue debate is not just a socio-economic policy dilemma for the Singapore
government. It has potential to touch the sensitive nerves of social identity, public morality
and values. Since public opinion is widely divided over the issue, there is danger that the
social fabric might be torn apart. On the flip side, the debate is also a healthy sign that
Singaporeans are actively engaged in public policy and are placing their stakes in the nation.
One also needs to study the implications of the casino idea on the reputation of Singapore
as a clean, sterile, corruption-free and crime-free city. Are Singaporeans ready to embrace
or resist a new identity as “Macau of South-East Asia” or “Las Vegas of Asia”?
MR WONG’S MEETING OF THE AGENCIES
Mr Wong arranged to meet his colleagues on 27 August 2004 at 9.30 am at the Conference
Wong : Good morning. Firstly, thank you for coming to this meeting at relatively
short notice. I hope you understand the urgency of this project. As you must all have
heard PM’s speech, he plans to make a decision on the casino idea by January 2005. I
therefore need your help and full cooperation to draft a report to him by 1 November 2004.
Before we proceed, can I request a brief update from your agencies’ point of view?
Gomez : Let me begin. From the tourism perspective, setting up a casino in
Singapore, for example in the Southern Islands, will be akin to cultivating another goose to
lay golden eggs for us in terms of tourism dollars. It is really a pot of gold. Just look at
the Atlantis in Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Las Vegas and Macau. No reason why we
should lose potential tourism dollars to these tourist destinations if we can have our own
casino here. But there are implementation issues if we should decide in favour of it. There
is also intense competition in Asia for the gaming market.
Lai : I agree with Mr Gomez. Gambling is a global phenomenon and is also common
in Singapore. Just look at our Toto, lottery, Big Sweep and horse racing, not to mention the
informal networks for mahjong and football betting. Since gambling already exists, what we
need to do is to regulate the industry and limit the social consequences. With the advance
of IT, online betting is also rampant. It is time that we proactively look at measures on how
to control the effects of gambling rather than ignore the problem and let it fester
underground. We can look at protective measures to maximize economic benefits and
minimize social cost.
Wong : Do you have evidence of the economic benefits?
Lai : (flipping through her file)… let me check…Yes, last month, we had some
figures provided by consultants and research economists who presented their findings at
the Gaming Conference held in Singapore. Please, Mr Wong, take a look at this memo that
captured the statistics and estimates:
Summary of Findings from Asian Casino Expo in Singapore, June 2004
Casino-related Business Earnings, Expenditures and Taxes
Asia’s legal gambling business = US$14 billion per annum
Estimated growth by year 2010 = US$23 billion per annum
(Reported in Straits Times “Asia puts its chips on the Gambling Industry” on 28 June 2004)
Singapore’s projected jobs created with casino-tourism resort = 1000
Projected earnings for casino operators = $235-335 million
Current Situation in Singapore
Singaporeans’ spending in regional casinos annually = $340 million
Spending in offshore floating casinos annually = $400 million
Tax revenue collected from lotteries = 1/10 of Singapore’s total tax revenue of $16.5
billion (according to Song Seng Wun, economist at GK Goh Research)
Singapore Pool’s total revenue from its 210 betting outlets in 2003 = $4.2 billion
Chin : This is only one side of the coin. To present the complete picture to the PM,
I feel we need to consider the less tangible social cost and consequences. These cannot be
expressed in dollars and cents, but can be felt in the rate of increase of gambling-related
problems of broken families, crime, loan sharks and bankruptcies etc. So far, three
religious groups have already made their categorically strong stand against the proposal.
(see NCCS Statement in Appendix 2) We must respond to their concerns seriously.
Wong : Yes, I am aware of these opposing views. We must be careful as it is a
sensitive area encroaching on religion and values of our society. I need your help, Mr Chin,
to consider how we might deal with these issues. If we open casinos, how to contain or limit
the social problems effectively? Do we need new mechanisms or policies to do this? We
also need to know how to handle the NGOs with strong views. We need to monitor what
they write to the press. Don’t forget, we also need to study whether it is socially
acceptable for Singaporeans if they were “discriminated” against entry if they fail to meet
certain income criteria.
Lai : May I interrupt at this point? I think if we have too many restrictive
policies on entry, casino operators might not find it economically viable or attractive to set
up shop here in Singapore. They can always go elsewhere. If we decide to seize the
economic opportunities, we must not overly limit the scale and profitability of the gaming
business. To me, that will be a “neither-here-nor-there” position. It will then be better not
to allow the setting up of casinos altogether. Chris Roberts, a University of Massachusetts
professor and expert on casino management was recently reported to have said that for
most casinos, 60-70% of revenues come from small players and the slot machines, rather
than the premium players who spend $3,000 to $5,000 a night. These high end players
might not necessarily come to Singapore since they already enjoy many choice destinations.
However, if Singapore builds a family-oriented tourist resort, we will be able to reap spin-
offs from other industries such as entertainment business and hotels.
Gomez : I see Ms Lai’s point of view. In fact, I heard that in Las Vegas, non-gaming
revenues are even greater than gaming revenues.
Wong : Okay. I think we cannot resolve these conflicting viewpoints here today at
this meeting. To move ahead, what should we do? Any ideas?
There were a few moments of silence as all four officials contemplated hard for an answer.
Gomez : Maybe we can consult our international friends in government on how they
view the issue and handle this dilemma. We should learn from their diverse experiences
before adapting a response suitable to our local context.
Wong : All right, can you take the lead? Perhaps draft a survey combining all your
various concerns and seek feedback as a first step.
Gomez: Okay, I shall meet separately with Ms Lai and Mr Chin to work this out. Our
overseas tourism offices can gather feedback. It will be good if we can get a sense
whether tourists would be more attracted to Singapore if we have a casino. The public
audience in Singapore would want to know such evidence. However, we must be prepared to
deal with the opposing voices to be expected from our Muslim, Christian and Buddhist
Lai and Chin: Okay, we will go along with this approach for the time being.
Wong : Mr Chin, please also get some views from a few credible sociologists and
family counsellors on the gambling addiction problem. We also need to consult the public on
the morality issues. We cannot afford to play with fire on these issues, especially since we
are at the transition to a new political leadership. If we are to implement the idea, a lot of
groundwork preparation will be necessary which requires the collaboration of many agencies
and grassroots organizations.
Lai : I will also try to find out how Malaysia implemented the policy when Genting
Highland was set up. I can seek the help of my Malaysian counterparts in Pahang.
Wong : Excellent! I am grateful for all your good ideas today. Let us meet again in
a month’s time to discuss this further. My secretary will get in touch with you on a suitable
time and date. See you then!
COLLABORATION OF THREE AGENCIES ON SURVEY
Ms Lai, Mr Gomez and Mr Chin met three days later to draft the survey form. After
intense negotiation and effort in ensuring that the questions were phrased well, they
managed to agree on the final survey (Appendix 3). Mr Gomez then proceeded to collect
feedback through his overseas offices.
OTHER FOLLOW-UP ACTION
Mr Chin followed up on the meeting’s decision to seek opinions of the various groups through
the existing networks from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. In
addition, he compiled a summary of press articles and letters from the public on the debate,
as well as a letter to the press from the NGO, Habitat for Humanity.
At her end, Ms Lai called up his Malaysian counterpart, Mr Rashid Mohd, Director of Special
Projects in the Pahang state government, to find out about the Genting project. Ms Lai also
managed to find out the current status of casinos in Asia.
Ms Lai, Mr Chin and Mr Gomez periodically kept Mr Wong informed of the progress of their
MEETING WITH MR WONG ON 27 SEPTEMBER 2004
Wong : Hello, everyone. The past four weeks must have been busy for you. I have
been following your emails on some of the updates and developments from your side. I have
photocopied your reports for our discussion today. He then handed out the three agencies’
reports to the three officials at the meeting at Appendix 4.
Lai : Two days ago, the news announced that Genting had acquired a British
casino. Looks like the competition in the casino industry is hotting up (see Appendix 5). We
will have to study the impact of competition with Genting.
THE WAY FORWARD
Wong : Now, the cards are more or less laid out for us on the table. Thank you for
your hard work. The challenge before us is first, to recommend whether or not to allow
casinos and with good reasons. Secondly, we need to address and manage the
implementation issues, especially the social impact, public opinion and concerns of the
various stakeholders. Shall we start work?
Excerpt of PM Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally Speech, 22 August 2004
Let me give a controversial example. It's quite a controversial one, some people told me
don't raise it, your first rally speech, very dangerous, but I'm going to do it anyway. It's to
do with the casino.
We said 'No' to the casino for a very long time. I've said 'No' to the casino for a very long
time. In 1985 we had a recession. I remember the late Mr Teh Cheang Wan wanted the
casino, argued for it. We said 'No'. We didn't proceed.
This time round we had an Economic Review Committee, the subcommittee has put up the
proposal for a casino. On the ERC I said 'No', a majority of the members said 'No', we
didn't recommend it.
But the subject didn't die. And we have to reconsider because the argument comes up, the
Why is the situation different? Because there are cruises to nowhere. More and more
cruising to nowhere. Some don't even cruise, some anchor nowhere.
You can go to Batam. I'm told there are 13 down there. I haven't been there but Wong Kan
Seng has been. He told me it was by accident.
And Singaporeans go there, so Singaporeans are already doing this, right?
Then you want tourists. There are millions of tourists because the Indians have money to
spend, the Chinese have money to spend, every tour group to Singapore goes to Genting.
Macau is opening up. Now they have broken the monopoly, new operators, more shows, more
games. If we want to grow our tourism traffic and double the number of tourists to
Singapore, we don't just want them to come here because of gambling, but if gambling is one
of the things they want to do, then maybe we should allow them to do that in Singapore,
find some way to do that.
And if, as a result of that, I get over 10 years double the traffic volume, I think we should
think about it.
So MTI has come with a new proposal, not just casino but an integrated resort,
So you have shows, you have family entertainment, you have food, restaurants, art, all sorts
of things and in the middle of course you also have this place.
Should we say no? Well, I think we take a deep breath and think about it carefully.
I know many Singaporeans have expressed concerns and very strong concerns and the
religious groups particularly have very strong views.
And their objections are not irrelevant, they are valid objections. It's because of these
objections that for so long we haven't done this.
But I think we shouldn't just say no. I think we should consider can we have the casino and
still contain the social problems? Let's study it, let's see if there's some way to do it.
So I think what we are going to do is to request for proposals.
Let's put out to say we are going to impose the following restrictions: Singaporeans below a
certain income, you don't go. I mean, if they want to travel all the way to Batam, that's
them but we will not make it easy for people to go broke and ruin their families in Singapore.
But if a millionaire wants to bring another millionaire friend from China or India, I don't
think I should say no to him. It may help lessen my other taxes.
So I think we will find a reasonable restriction, draw a line, call for the proposals, test the
market. Let's see what proposals come in. If it makes sense and people think that this is
worth doing commercially, we make a judgment, we proceed. If it's not worth it, not worth
the downside risk, then we will call it off.
We will consider all views before deciding. Finally, if we decide against, then I think we will
have had a valuable debate in our society, a valuable discussion and sent a strong signal that
we are prepared to discuss all sorts of things and reopen long-settled issues.
But if we decide to proceed, then the final solution which we implement will have to address
the valid concerns which Singaporeans have raised.
So it's not a black and white. I mean, it's looking for an appropriate middle way where we
can have our cake and also eat most of it.
Increasingly the world is going to be like that. China opened up. Deng Xiaoping said, when
you open the windows, the flies will fly in. So you can't close the windows, you'll just have to
have a fly swapper, a fly trap, have one of these UV lights to zap them but keep the
windows open and keep your interior as clean and as hygienic for your own people as possible.
And I think that's the attitude we should have.
The National Council of Churches, Singapore
A Statement on Casino
The Singapore Government has announced that it is exploring the feasibility of developing
an "integrated entertainment resort, which may also include a casino."i[i] The National
Council of Churches of Singapore, as a responsible Christian community which is also
interested in the socio-economic and moral well-being of the wider society, would like to
express our concern regarding the possible inclusion of a casino in the proposed
We want to begin by affirming that it is desirable to hold fast to the good values and
virtues which our society has nurtured and taught through the efforts of the various faith
communities, associations, clans, and educational institutions, often with the support of our
government's policies. Our concern is that these hard-earned values and virtues like thrift,
industry, generosity, and fairness, should not be unravelled by projects or policies which
could subvert them and thus impoverish our society instead of enhancing it.
We speak against the building of a casino in Singapore for these reasons:
1. Casinos undermine virtues.
a. They tend to compromise the moral values and virtues required by a society to flourish
as a nation marked by excellence in human achievements and good character.
b. Gamblers are inclined to put their trust in luck and chance, often motivated by greed and
the mistaken belief that money can be easily obtained without hard-work and social
c. Apart from jeopardizing hard-work and social responsibility, a gambling culture,
accentuated by the presence of a casino would signal that time-tested virtues shared by
people of different faiths, such as honesty, compassion, prudence, integrity, neighbourly
love, trustworthiness, and social justice, are no longer of primary concern to Singapore.
2. Casinos will introduce more social ills.
a. Casinos may generate high financial yields. Those who will benefit most from such profits
will be the casino operators, their shareholders and the government that collects tax.
However, revenue from casino collected by the government will be outweighed by the
economic and social costs incurred in combating crimes and the attendant social ills
associated with, and attracted by, a gambling culture.
b. The downside of looking only for high yields, with little regard for social ills, is that such
riches will be financed not only by gamblers who might be able to afford their losses but
worse still by people who cannot, but are nevertheless tragically trapped in their gambling
c. Losers will not advertise their losses. Invariably they will suffer in silence. That is not
the only tragedy. The rippling effect of losses will mean that the losers' families will have
to bear the brunt of their foolish indulgence in gambling. In some well-publicized cases, the
loser may conspire to cheat and defraud others to feed his gambling addictions.ii[ii] The end
result, sadly, is that the social fabric that sustains a prosperous and peaceful society will be
3. It is not in our national interest to have a casino
a. In the interest of Singapore's long-term future, if a casino is built, what are we saying
about the kind of a society we want Singapore to become and to excel in? A country which
may pride itself on having the best entertainment resort with gambling facilities is unlikely
to be a wholesome family-friendly society, which our government seeks to advance. It is
unlikely that a country known for its gambling culture and access to casino facilities will be a
desirable place for any responsible family, nourished by time-tested virtues, to settle in,
take root and flourish. This would negate the effort to attract and retain talents and even
ordinary people of good character, so vital to the continued well-being and prosperity of
b. It has been said that certain controls can be introduced to ensure that not every
Singaporean will be permitted to enter the casino, if one is built. But that option is weak.
Besides the social fallout and the negative impact created by a new "qualifying and non-
qualifying" class of local gamblers, Singapore's hard-earned international reputation as a
safe, just and corruption-free country that cares for poor and vulnerable people, will be
tarnished when Singapore takes on a new tag as a country now targeting and preying on the
wallets of gambling tourists, not all of whom are rich.
c. Furthermore, a great country should be one that will protect the interests of not just its
citizens. What makes a country great and commendable is its willingness to provide similar
protection to overseas visitors. There is nothing commendable about making money from
gullible local gamblers or tourists who spend their money in casinos even if they choose to
gamble on their own free will.
d. Singapore is not so poor and desperate that we have to depend on revenues derived from
casinos and gambling to increase our GDP and to finance social projects. Even if we are poor,
we should be a people of dignity and moral courage. There are other ethically sound and
responsible ways of generating incomes, attracting businesses and drawing tourists which
the government can tap on and promote without compromising our moral standards.
The National Council of Churches, with members from different social backgrounds, as
responsible people who are interested in the well-being of our society - especially those who
are vulnerable - will continue to contribute to the building of a compassionate, just,
prosperous, peaceful and flourishing Singapore. And we can do this, with God's help and with
the cooperative efforts of other concerned and ethically responsible Singaporeans of
different faiths, without relying on casinos to generate income or subsidize social projects.
Adopted by the Ex Co of the NCCS at their meeting on 2nd July, 2004 and released to
its members. Reported in an article in the Straits Times on 15 July 2004
i[i] Ms Lim Chuen Ni, "Casino resort study still at early stage," in the Straits Times' Forum Page (June 18,
2004). Ms Lim is the Senior Assistant Director with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
ii[ii] The best recent example is the case involving a senior executive of APB in a multi-million-dollars
Religion: Muslim/Christian/Buddhist/Hindu/Others _____
(please circle accordingly and specify if others)
Profession: ________________ (optional)
CASINOS: ARE YOU IN FAVOUR?
PLEASE CIRCLE YOUR RESPONSES EITHER “YES” OR “NO”
1. Are there currently legalized casinos in your country?
2. If yes, are locals allowed into the casinos? Yes No
3. If no, is your government planning to open casinos in the future? Yes
4. Are there restrictions to entry? If yes, please specify (e.g. age and income levels):
5. Do you think it is fair for casinos to restrict entry in terms of income levels, e.g.
below a certain income, you are not allowed to enter or play in a casino.
6. Do you have personal or moral objections to setting up casinos in your country?
If yes, why? ______________
If no, why? ______________
7. Do you believe a gambling culture has a negative impact on society?
8. Do you believe gambling leads to greed and is a threat to good values such as
thrift and hard work?
9. Do you believe that gambling is a social ill that is a major cause of other social
problems such as bankruptcy and break up of families?
10. Do you think setting up casinos will worsen gambling as an addiction in your
country? Yes No
11. Does your religion have specific mention or teaching against gambling?
If so, please specify if possible: ___________________
12. Would you find a country with casinos more attractive as a tourist destination?
13. Do you think it is necessary to open casinos in your country, if neighbouring
countries already have casinos that your countrymen visit?
14. If you were a business operator or shareholder of a company, which runs casinos,
would you overcome your moral objections to encourage government to allow
casinos? Yes No
15. Do you think it is ethically right for government to tax gamblers in order to gain
revenue to support other worthy government projects?
16. Do you think government should treat gambling the same way it treats drugs or
smoking? For e.g. issue warnings and heavy taxes.
If yes, why? ________________________
If no, why? ________________________
17. Would you support casinos if they were located within a family-friendly tourist
18. Casinos are a potential opportunity for GDP growth through job creation via other
service-related industries; taxes on earnings of casinos operators; and tourism
inflow into the country. Do you think these factors outweigh the potential social
problems and cost?
19. If you were the government official in charge of recommending the setting up of
casinos in your country, would you support the idea?
The following documents were distributed by Mr Wong:
1 Mr Gomez’ Report
INTERNATIONAL SURVEY ON CASINOS
Total: 48 respondents from 27 countries
21 Muslims, 8 Buddhists, 13 Christians, 2 Catholics, 1 Hindu, 3 no religion
ASEAN sample size: 24
Malaysia (8); Philippines (5); Indonesia (1); Brunei (1); Thailand (1); Vietnam (3);
Myanmar (2); Laos (2); Cambodia (1)
Detailed statistics of survey results
Questions Yes No/Abstain Questions Yes No/Abstain
1 32 16 11 39 5/4
2 4 12 17 31
3 3 13 13 8 40
4 15 14 16 32
5 29 17/2 15 23 22/3
6 35 12/1 16 40 8
7 43 5 17 7 41
8 39 8/1 18 16 31/1
9 40 8 19 8 40
10 39 8/1
Countries polled: 17 countries below (in bold) have legalized casinos.
ASEAN Asia Africa Others
Philippines Sri Lanka Zimbabwe Vanuatu
Vietnam Nepal Cameroon Peru
Laos Pakistan Gambia
Thailand Iran Tanzania
Myanmar Yemen Ethiopia
Brunei Turkey Morocco
Cambodia Uzbekistan South Africa
Turkey plans to open casino in the future.
On restrictions to entry, 8 countries restrict by age (usually 18 years and above)
Ethiopia and Morocco have no restrictions.
Malaysia forbids Muslims from entering.
4 countries do not allow locals in their casinos: Laos, Vietnam, Gambia, Sri Lanka
Moral objections: 35 object, 12 do not object.
Following are objections mentioned in sequence of frequency:
- gambling addiction
- lead to crime
- family and values erosion
- leads to other social problems
- luck replaces hard work ethic
No objections due to following reasons:
- economic benefit and employment
- regulations should take care of negative externalities
- people should be given freedom
43 think gambling culture has a negative impact on society versus 5 who do not
39 think gambling leads to greed and other negative values.
40 think gambling leads to other social problems like break up of families and
39 think that gambling will be worsened as an addiction if casinos are allowed.
39 have religious objections to gambling.
17 think casinos can be tourist attraction, 31 do not think so.
40 do not think that there is a need to open casinos if there was already one in
32 would not overcome moral objections if they were business operators standing to gain
from running casinos. 16 would.
23 think it is ethically right for governments to tax gamblers; 22 do not; 3 abstained.
40 think gambling should be treated like smoking and drugs e.g. higher taxes, warnings
etc. 8 disagree; one argued that gambling per se does not damage or kill like drugs and
41 would not support casinos even if they were located in a family friendly resort.
31 think that economic benefits do not outweigh social costs.
40 will not recommend setting up casino if they were in the capacity of government
official. Only 8 would.
2 Ms Lai’s Report
Major Milestones in the story of Malaysia’s Genting Highland Resort
Started by entrepreneur Lim Goh Tong in the 1960s, whose vision for a mountain resort
near KL coincided with government’s development plans. The project started on 8 Aug
1965 after freehold land was obtained from the Pahang and Selangor state governments
with the support of Malaysia’s First PM Tunku Abdul Rahman. First step was to build an
access road up the mountain Gunung Ulu Kali. Genting resort opened its doors on 8 May
Lim visited Macau and South Korea to study casino operations and held talks with
28 April 1969, Lim submitted application for a casino licence to the Government through
the Tunku’s Private Secretary, Datuk Nik Hassan. A Cabinet meeting was held that day
where the application was tabled for deliberation. During the Cabinet meeting, Tunku
asked Tun Dr Ismail, Home Minister, for his opinion on the casino. The latter supported
the idea on grounds that a legal casino would curb illegal gambling activities and hasten
development of the country’s tourism industry. He also felt that the location of the casino
on top of a mountain would make it relatively easy to ensure that its security because
there was only a single access road. There were no objections from other members of the
Cabinet. Later in that afternoon, the casino licence was approved. Genting Highlands
became the first and only casino licence holder in the country.
Lim applied for pioneer status for Genting. The government stand was that Genting’s
activity did not fall within the definition of a qualifying industry for pioneer status and
therefore could not enjoy tax incentives. Besides, casino operators all over the world pay
higher rates of taxes than other enterprises.
Lim met with officials from the Treasury, Department of Inland Revenue, the Attorney-
General’s Office and the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He argued that tax incentives
were essential for the business and would be profitable for the Government later on. Lim
also believed that the laws of the country should be dynamic to keep pace with
requirements of the changing times. His argument was as follows:
Annual taxable income: RM 2 million
For 5 years, Genting would pay RM800,000 income tax per annum (assuming then
corporate income tax of 40%)
Total tax payable for 5 years : RM4 million
This amount was small in context of national revenues but if ploughed back into
Genting’s investment in resort infrastructure development, it would help build hotels and
tourist facilities including man-made lake, cable car, golf course, and the Chin Swee
temple. These would attract more tourists and generate much more earnings.
The tax revenue to be collected from Gentling after the 5-year tax holiday would easily
exceed the total revenue that the Government had foregone. Hence, by granting pioneer
status to Genting, the Government would in effect be giving it a loan that would be amply
repaid with a handsome interest.
The officials saw merit in the argument and granted Genting a 5-year pioneer status
from 8 May 1971.
1976, Genting successfully applied for one year extension in pioneer status.
In total, Genting enjoyed tax savings of RM8 million which was reinvested into
Reservoirs and water treatment plants were built on the mountain to meet growing
demands of fresh drink water. Catchment areas were located away from development
sites to reduce risk of pollution.
By early April 1984, Gentling Highlands had full power supply from the national
electricity grid. In 1982, Genting set up its own fire station and fire-fighting facilities.
Lim turned down timber logging bids and allowed trees to be cut only when necessary.
He opted for high rise buildings to maximise land use and preserve natural jungle.
Gentling has only developed 175 hectares or 4% of the highlands, leaving 96% virgin
jungle. 700 hectares were set aside as Government forest reserve.
Job creation during economic downturn
Despite the 1997 recession, Genting forged ahead with ambitious billion-ringgit First
World Hotel and Plaza Complex project, which contributed to stimulating the
construction industry during the downturn. Officially opened by PM Dr Mahathir on 26
Gohtong Jaya township developed at midhill, at the suggestion of PM Dr Mahathir.
Opened by Sultan of Pahang on 25 March 1999.
Chin Swee Temple opened on 29 March 1994 by Transport Minister Dr Ling Liong Sik.
Now a popular place of worship and tourist attraction.
Contribution to Tourism Industry
10,000 hotel rooms; 106,000 sq ft Genting International Convention Centre with 6000
seats; over 150 retail and food and beverage outlets; 500,000 sq ft indoor theme park that
is the largest in Southeast Asia; Genting’s X-pedition Wall, Malaysia’s biggest and tallest
world-class climbing wall; Snow World with simulated snowfall and slides.
Visitor arrivals and national tourism revenue from 1997 to 2002
Year Visitor arrivals to Visitor arrivals to Total Tourist
Genting (million) Malaysia (million) Expenditure in
1997 10.3 6.2 9.7
1998 12.3 5.6 8.6
1999 12.1 7.9 12.3
2000 13.4 10.2 17.3
2001 14.1 12.8 24.2
2002 15.4 13.3 42.6
Notes: Number of visitors to Genting was consistently more than visitors to Malaysia.
Half of Genting’s registered guests are locals; other half consists of foreigners.
1978: Yayasan Lim was set up as a family foundation to contribute to charity causes.
Genting and Lim have won many national and international accolades in tourism,
construction and entrepreneurship.
Sep 1993: Star Cruises Pte Ltd incorporated. Today, it is third largest cruise line in the
world and is the leading and only cruise line in the Asia-Pacific. Boasts of a fleet of 20
cruise ships covering destinations all over the world.
27 Nov 2002: Lim’s son, Lim Kok Thay succeeded him as President and CEO of Genting
Berhad and Resorts World Bhd.
Source: “My Story” autobiography of Lim Goh Tong, launched on 31 Dec 2003
Scorecard: Casinos in the region
Cambodia: About 23 licensed and unlicensed casinos, many of them in the Thai-border
town of Poipet.
China: Casinos are illegal, except in the Special Administrative Region of Macau.
Hong Kong: Casinos are illegal, but not horse-racing and lotteries run by the Hong Kong
India: Some casinos with limited facilities found in the western state of Goa. In 2002, the
government proposed to introduce Vegas-style casinos in the northern state of Punjab.
Indonesia: Casinos are banned in Indonesia, although many underground venues can be
found in Batam. It is considering lifting the gambling ban in Jakarta.
Japan: Casinos are illegal but quasi-casinos can be found in the form of pachinko and
pachi-slot parlours. Last year, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara proposed legalising
Laos: One licensed casino, Dansavanh Casino, in Ban Muang Wa-Tha, 60km from the
capital of Laos.
Macau: 13 licensed casinos, including the latest Sands Macau by US giant Las Vegas
Sands Inc. The other 12, run by Stanley Ho's Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, achieved
revenues of US$3.7 billion last year. In the works are two more casinos by Hong Kong
hotel tycoon Lui Che Woo and American casino entrepreneur Steve Wynn.
Malaysia: One licensed casino, Casino de Genting, in Genting Highlands.
Myanmar: Five licensed clubs, with table games like blackjack and slot machines, in
provinces along the Myanmar-Thailand border. Many unlicensed casinos in provinces
North Korea: One licensed casino in a five-star hotel in Pyongyang.
Philippines: 16 licensed casinos run by state-owned firm Philippine Amusement and
Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), whose earnings hit some US$357 million last year.
Singapore: Casinos are illegal, but not betting on horse-racing run by the Singapore Turf
Club, and lotteries and sports betting run by Singapore Pools. Singapore also has more
than 80 society clubs operating more than 2,000 slot machines. In March this year, the
Singapore Government threw up the idea of opening a casino.
South Korea: 13 licensed casinos, but only one open to Korean nationals. They raked in
US$917 million last year.
Taiwan: Casinos are illegal. It is looking at allowing gambling in remote, offshore
islands such as Kinmen and Penghu.
Thailand: Casinos are illegal. The only form of gambling allowed are government
lotteries and horse-racing in specific locations on specified days. In March, Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra won overwhelming support from the House of
Representatives for his move to legalise gambling.
Vietnam: One licensed casino, Do Son Casino, in Do Son. In Mong Cai, Lao Cai and
Halong Bay, there are some clubs that are licensed to operate a limited number of table
Source: Straits Times “Asia puts its chips on the Gambling Industry”, 28 June 2004
3 Mr Chin’s Report
Sociologists’ and Family Counsellors’ views
National University of Singapore sociology researcher, Mr Ho Teck Hua said gambling is
a tough, incremental habit to battle. Gambling addicts have no control over their habit.
They keep doubling up to try to win back what they've lost, and in the end they usually
just lose more. While we need to look at developing programmes for Singapore's
gambling addicts, a more effective way of tackling the problem might be to try and
prevent the addiction in the first place. Increasing the number of gambling outlets in
Singapore, and extending the opening hours, does not seem like part of a prevention plan.
Family counsellors observed that not enough is being done to discourage gambling,
unlike what is being done in raising public awareness towards drugs and smoking.
Increasingly, young people are looking for a “kick” and getting hooked on “striking the
20% of families being counselled by the Ministry are due to gambling-related problems.
7% of suicides are also due to loan shark problems usually related to gambling.
Most addicted gamblers have problems saving or providing financial and emotional
security for their families. They are also more prone to job-hopping or unemployment.
Summary of Press articles and public debate
There was a divide in opinion on the issue in press articles and letters from the public to
the Forum Page in the local Straits Times in the past month. Proponents felt that there
was already a deeply entrenched gambling culture in Singapore and casinos will not
worsen the problem. Government might as well rake in the revenue from tourists and
benefit from the job creation resulting from the casino industry. Casino advocates argue
that those not allowed to indulge in their poker in their home country will simply go
overseas or online. Those who cannot bet legally will do so underground. Legalising
gambling will be more effective in controlling the industry. Even if Singapore does not
allow casinos, many other countries will go for it. Singapore’s location is a unique
advantage that can allow it to become a promising gaming hub in Asia very quickly.
Opponents argue that the Government will be sending the wrong signal to the general
public as a reversal to the traditional values it has promoted and built up over the years
such as thrift, hard work, “no pain, no gain” philosophy. It is also not ethical for
Singapore to rely on the losses of gambling tourists to boost its own revenue for social
projects or cut taxes in other areas. Resorting to this economic strategy is not based on
sound economic development and growth, but rather an expedient and opportunistic
Some argue that the economic benefits have been overstated, since a mega-casino could
potentially divert spending away from entertainment and luxury consumption in other
sectors. This could lead to a hollowing-out effect.
Some “liberals” feel that it is about time the Government stops being a “nanny” to its
citizens. Just as the Government has allowed bar-top dancing and bungee jumping, it
should likewise allow casinos. Whether to gamble away one’s fortune should be a
decision left to mature adults to make. Advocates of the proposal therefore feel it is a
chance for Singapore to portray itself as a mature nation which is open-minded and able
to handle new challenges. These public voices also often cite Las Vegas and Macau as
not crime-infested cities but rather dynamic ones.
There was a recent case of a top executive who was jailed 42 years for high level fraud
since he swindled much money to feed his gambling habit. This has sparked off some
public opinion against the casino as a danger for society and a potential catalyst for other
Letter from NGO to the Forum Page of Straits Times on 26 Sep 2004
LAST week, I led a team of volunteers to build houses for the poor in Batam. As I had to
attend to some urgent matters, I took the ferry back to Singapore late on Saturday
evening. The ferry was packed, not with volunteers, but with people who had gone to
Batam to visit the casino. Most of them were middle-aged women, many looked like
Two women who sat beside me were conversing in Cantonese, complaining non-stop
about how they had lost money at the casino. One of them said that it was time for her to
visit her son, so that he could give her some pocket money.
The other kept lamenting that she would not be in trouble had she remembered the
Chinese saying that nine out of 10 gamblers would lose.
When the ferry reached Singapore, the group stood up and rushed to the exit. While
queuing to disembark, I heard more complaints and nervous jokes all around me.
Apparently, I had boarded a ferry filled with losers.
A man behind me, who earned only a couple of thousand dollars a month, told his friend
he had lost $900.
A woman who looked like a housewife said she had better rush home before her husband
found out, to which her friend jokingly said that if only they would work as hard at their
jobs, things would be better.
All the while, I thought of the many volunteers in Batam who spent days building houses
for people who lived in wooden shacks smaller than most of our living rooms. There was
one volunteer who is 67, but worked as hard as those who are in their 20s.
It was a surreal experience, having been on a bout of altruistic euphoria just hours earlier,
and now plunged into the midst of people who were experiencing what I would certainly
consider as the darker side of life.
I pray that the decision-makers would not assume that we can simply pack away the
social consequences of a casino the way we pack away unwanted things.
The price to pay in return for economic benefits cannot be measured in dollars and cents
alone. By building a casino, we would not be able to gain the whole world, but we will
certainly lose part of our soul.
YONG TECK MENG
Chairman, Habitat for Humanity, Singapore
Genting buys London casino for 10.5m (Singapore Business Times, 24 Sep 2004)
MALAYSIAN casino operator Genting - which could lose a lot of customers if
Singapore goes ahead with a casino - has acquired its first foreign casino in recent years.
Genting International (GIL) - a Genting subsidiary that is quoted on Clob International in
Singapore - said yesterday its wholly-owned UK subsidiary Coastbright has struck a
conditional deal to buy London's Maxims Casino for 10.5 million (S$32 million) from
GIL said the transaction is expected to be completed early next year after the gaming
licence has been transferred to Coastbright. Gala will operate the casino until then. GIL
said Maxims, which is located at Palace Gate in London's Kensington district, operates as
an exclusive members' club and is one of only a handful of top-end casinos in London's
posh West End. Maxims' website says the club has 26 gaming tables.
'GIL is delighted with the prospect of owning the Maxims Casino,' said GIL chairman
Lim Kok Thay. 'We are excited by the outlook for the gaming industry in the UK and
look forward to a successful future with Maxims Casino.
'The Genting group has an established record as an international gaming operator. We
look forward to a growing presence in the UK as the new era opens up, and expect
Maxims Casino to form an important part of our future in the UK.' An analyst said
Genting's plan has come in the wake of the deregulation of the UK gaming market, which
has 135 casinos.
Britain's 1968 Gambling Act, which restricts the hours casinos can open, where they
are located and how they advertise, may be repealed. Another rule that is seen to be
cumbersome is the membership requirement - gamblers must apply at a casino with
proof of identity 24 hours before they enter the club.
The Genting acquisition also comes ahead of Singapore's move to consider a casino.
Genting is keen for a slice of any Singapore casino, as this would help offset a likely
loss of business at its highlands casino in Malaysia. Almost a fifth of Genting's
gamblers come from Singapore.
But it's no sure bet that Genting would get a slice of a Singapore casino, as almost all
major players have expressed interest.
The Maxims deal is Genting's first foreign casino foray in recent years. In the 1990s, GIL
disposed of its management contracts and equity interests in four casinos - Burswood in
Perth, Adelaide Casino, Lucayan Beach in the Bahamas and Subic Bay in the Philippines
- to concentrate on its cruise business. The group failed to secure a casino licence in
Macau two years ago.