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Mon, Jan 16, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Four parties left in high-stakes casino bid battle

AFP , SINGAPORE

Three Las Vegas giants and a Malaysian gaming firm are left in a high-stakes battle to build Singapore's first casino after rivals from Australia, South Africa, the Bahamas and Hong Kong pulled out.

Although several companies abandoned their bids, industry analysts said competition remains intense because the surviving contenders are among the world's biggest gaming firms.

"Several high-quality bidders remain in the race for the Marina Bay integrated resort," said Jonathan Galaviz, an analyst with Globalysis, a Las Vegas-based research and advisory firm tracking Asia's casino gaming sector.

"The competition will continue to be intense all the way until the award of the project," he said.

"There is no doubt that Singapore will ultimately be successful in receiving a bid that provides a world-class globally recognized integrated resort at Marina Bay that the country will be proud of."

The "integrated resort" concept refers to convention facilities, hotels, theaters, museums and theme parks that will be included in addition to casino gambling.

Fourteen foreign investors were invited after Singapore lifted a ban on casino gambling in April last year, but two immediately opted out and eight withdrew their bids in succession as they evaluated their prospects.

Bidding for the first casino project on Marina Bay, adjacent to the central business district, will close on March 29. The casino is scheduled to start operations in 2009.

Bidding for the second casino project on Sentosa island, a former British artillery outpost turned tourism site, will open in the first quarter and close four months after the Marina Bay winner is announced.

Tiny Singapore, which lacks the natural or cultural wonders offered by its Southeast Asian neighbors, is betting on the casino projects to help attract more tourists, including Asia's high-rollers.

Sean Monaghan, a Merrill Lynch analyst who monitors the gaming industry, believes the Singapore integrated resorts, which include the casinos, would be among the most expensive built anywhere.

Marina Bay could cost more than US$3 billion to construct and Sentosa about US$2 billion, he said.

"Despite the high development cost, we believe the two casinos will be profitable and will create value for the successful companies involved," Monaghan said in a research note for clients.

Most of the companies that withdrew their bids said the development cost had become too high and there were risks in recovering the investment.

There were also concerns over government restrictions including a S$100 (US$61.30) entry fee for Singaporeans in an effort to address problem gambling.

Among those that have pulled out are Australian gaming stalwart Tabcorp, a consortium involving Australia's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd and Hong Kong's Melco International Development, and South African firm Peermont Global.

Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, whose owner Steve Wynn complained there was too much direction and control by Singapore officials involved in the bidding process, folded up its bid.

Kerzner International of the Bahamas, Las Vegas-based Eighth Wonder and Sun International of South Africa also opted out.

Still in the running are Harrah's Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage -- all US gaming behemoths which have partnered with entrenched Singapore-based property developers -- and Malaysia's Genting International.

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