Don’t be surprised if Jakarta seems a little quiet this weekend. Everyone will be in Singapore, rattling the dice and praying for that elusive ace of spades.
At least, that’s the hope of the bosses at Singapore’s first-ever casino, which has rushed to be ready to open its doors on Sunday — in time for the lucrative Chinese New Year holidaymakers — and is crossing its fingers for a stampede of Indonesian gamblers.
Resorts World Sentosa, owned by Malaysian gaming giant Genting, is the first of two casinos to open as part of a campaign to attract millions of new tourists. The second casino complex, Marina Bay Sands, is being completed by US-based Las Vegas Sands and is due to open in April.
“Singapore’s new casinos open up Southeast Asia as an entirely new market for multiple-billion dollar integrated entertainment,” said Jonathan Galaviz, a gaming industry analyst in Las Vegas.
Many Indonesians planning a visit to ply the green baize tables will have a wrestle with their conscience first, however. Amidhan, the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), warned on Friday evening that any Muslim wishing to stake it all on red or black would be unambiguously sinning.
As if sensing this dilemma for would-be gamblers, Singapore is eager to stress it is not touting itself as a rival to glitzy Macau or Las Vegas. The two casino resorts are marketed as family and business destinations. Resorts World has a theme park, while Marina Bay Sands has convention facilities big enough for 45,000 delegates.
Tourism chiefs will take what they can get, though, acknowledging that tourist numbers need a little more sparkle. Visitor arrivals fell to 9.7 million in 2009, down 4.3 percent from 2008, though a surge in the last quarter boosted hopes that this year will be better.