Mon, Jan 28, 2013 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Asian casinos are thriving, but locals are not welcome


For Vietnamese, all gambling apart from a state-run lottery is banned, although illegal betting — on everything from cock-fighting to English Premier League football matches — is widespread.

While Vietnamese gamblers have no access to a place like Kangwon Land, they can simply cross into Cambodia, where huge casinos have been built near the border that cater almost exclusively to Vietnamese tourists.

Needless to say, Cambodians are not legally allowed to gamble in their own casinos, though presumably they would be welcomed at those in Vietnam.

Perhaps aware of the contradictions thrown up by foreigner-only policies, Singapore has opted for a compromise of open casino access, but with special restrictions for the island-state’s citizens and long-term residents.

A S$100 (US$81) entry fee aimed to filter out low-income gamblers, while any Singaporean who had filed for bankruptcy or received long-term financial state aid was automatically barred.

After a 2011 official survey showed an increasing proportion of low-income gamblers playing with large sums, the ban was expanded in June last year to include the unemployed and those on short-term welfare. Casinos that fail to comply face a maximum fine that used to be capped at S$1 million, but can now reach as high as 10 percent of annual gross gaming revenue.

Despite these measures, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) said during a visit to Australia in October last year that his government was still “watching anxiously” to determine the impact of the casino experiment.

“From a social point of view, we would like to say that it has been all right, but it is too early to say because the casinos have been operating only for two years and a half,” Lee said.

Commercially, Singapore’s two casino resorts have been an undeniable success, with a combined gaming revenue of about US$5 billion in 2011.

That level of return has fueled debate in countries like Japan about lifting its ban on casinos, which forces Japanese gamblers to travel to South Korea, Macau and Singapore to play the tables.

Taiwanese, meanwhile, may soon have a domestic option after the residents of Matsu voted in July last year to open the country’s first legal casino.

The casino would be open to everyone except, perhaps inevitably, Matsu residents themselves.

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