More Visitors to Singapore than Ever
The Singapore Tourism Board recently published statistics for 2016, and they make mixed reading, depending on your sector. Overall, the island nation welcomed 16.4 million visitors during the course of the year, who spent a total of SG$24.6 billion (US$18 billion), representing an eight percent rise on 2015, and a 13 percent increase in spending.
This amounts to around five percent of GDP, demonstrating that Singapore is becoming more than just a business and commercial hub. However, while visitors per se are on the up, the indications are that they must be spending their time and money on the Boat Quay, exploring Orchard Tower or visiting Singapore Zoo. Whatever they are doing, it seems that fewer are gambling at either of the country’s two resort casinos, Las Vegas Sands and World Sentosa, than in previous years.
The decline in VIP visitors
The reason for this is Singapore’s strict policy of ensuring that only those who have money to burn will be attracted to its integrated resort casinos. Unlike Las Vegas, Sun City or even Monte Carlo, where the casinos will practically pay gamblers to come in, the casinos in Singapore charge locals an SG$100 entry fee. While the rationale is understandable enough, the result is simply to drive most gamblers to either online resources or to the Lido floating casino on the Leisure World cruise ship, that plies its trade in international waters, just off the Singapore coast.
World Sentosa and Las Vegas Sands are therefore heavily reliant on the tourist industry, and till recently, the largest demographic through the doors were high rollers from China. However, a factor that is completely outside Singapore’s control has had major implications for its casinos – and this is the complex relationship between China and its gamblers.
China, Macau, and Gambling
China has, on the one hand, the gambling capital of the world right there on its doorstep. People visit Macau from all around the globe to spend time in its casinos, but more than half of Macau’s visitors come from the Chinese mainland, where gambling is officially illegal.
Locals are permitted to take a maximum of 30,000 yuan renminbi with them on a visit – equivalent to about HK$25,000, which would typically allow them one bid at a high roller table. Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and a complex network of junkets has evolved over the years.
This is the area that has affected Singapore’s casino trade. Until recently, Chinese VIPs who would ordinarily have taken the one-hour ferry journey (or 15-minute helicopter ride) to Macau have been forced to travel further afield to Singapore instead. However, over the past year or so, China appears to have relaxed its attitude towards the VIP junket operators, and Macau is reclaiming a growing percentage of this crucial market.
A model for the future?
Japan will soon be legalizing two casinos of its own and is following Singapore’s model for ensuring that visitors can afford to lose what they spend by imposing hefty entrance fees. Only time will tell whether these will see similar peaks and troughs that are purely dependent on the internal policies of its neighboring countries.