Friday, March 26, 2010

Place your bets

There is something very new and somewhat controversial going on in Singapore.  Two casinos are opening up!  Actually one already opened in February and the other one is on its way.  They have been building and working on these since I first came to Singapore back in early 2008, so it's interesting to have seen the progress. 

The interior of Resorts World Sentosa's casino in Singapore. Photo: AP

I'm not sure exactly how controversial it has been, but from what I heard it was a very big decision for the government to make - to allow gambling in Singapore. I think they are very concerned with the negative aspects gambling can bring to a community.  But in the end, the economic benefit from tourists outweighed the costs, with some mitigating factors.  The competition comes from Macau, the Vegas of the East.

I wondered how many dollars could be at stake, but now I see.  First the mitigating factors:
  1. All Singapore citizens and permanent residents have to pay S$100 upon entry to the casino (like a ticket to an amusement park). 
  2. The S$100 is only valid for one entry and only 24 hours.  You leave to get more cash at an ATM, you pay another S$100. 
  3. Instead of the S$100, you can also buy an annual pass for only S$2,000 :). 
  4. If you or someone in your family has a gambling problem, you can add them to a list of people 'banned' from the casino. 
So ultimately - it's the tourists they want to lose their money, and lose I did. You can't take pictures in the casino, but I did get one outside of the complex.  The casino is part of Resorts World on Sentosa Island. A Universal Studios theme park just opened up there recently as well along with a few different hotels, restaurants, shops, etc.  It's not 100% operating yet, but getting there.  Here's a pic of one of the open, common areas, above the casino.

I'm no experienced gambler (only been twice) but this was no Riverboat.  It was a huge expanse, maybe a third was blocked off for smokers and the rest smoke free.  Tons of tables, maybe only half of the open.  But the open ones were full - seats taken with people 2-3 deep watching.  A lot of roulette, baccarat and pontoon, mixed in with a little black jack and various poker games.  Did I play? No.  The table minimum bets started at S$50 and I swear I even saw one roulette table with a S$400 minimum.  I have never seen so much money on the tables.  Cashing in stacks of S$50 bills.  I went with a U.S. coworker who was here on a business trip and he's more of a gambler than myself.   He estimated a S$1,000 bet going on one hand at a table.  Too rich for my cheap blood :). 

Head to the slots, which there were also a lot of, but the tables out numbered them.  These also were full, at capacity.  They were 5 and 2 cents - a big change from S$50.  But, a lot of people placed 20 bets or more at a time to raise the stakes. We waited 10-15 minutes and one machine opened up.  I took it and tried to see how long my S$50 would last.  I think 20 minutes or so.  I didn't do very good and gave up.  The lady who took my place lost it all even sooner, so I didn't feel so bad.  After each of us lost our S$50, we decided to head out for the night.

Another odd thing - no one was drinking.  I'm use to seeing alcohol in hands while gambling (at least it's that way in the movies).  Either they are quite serious here or the etiquette is a bit different.  I was told that this casino is marketed towards the Chinese population (I didn't see many white faces out there). The other casino, which is yet to open, is part of The Sands, and I'm guessing that this will be targeted to Westerners.  Perhaps they will sneak a S$5/10 table in there ;).

All in all, it was a fun evening and experience!

*I kept everything in Singapore dollars (S$) because the relationship of that amount to their own incomes is probably comparable to $50 in the U.S.  Since I am paid on a local Singapore salary, in S$, I no longer do the conversion.  I'll do a post on money in the future.


  1. That casino is gorgeous! The "entrance fee" is kinda like the "ante" here -- you have to pay a $.50 ante for EVERY hand you play. Crazy! For the "banned list", do they just scan ID's at the front door?

    We went to a Cherokee casino once and lost $80 in 10 minutes. That was enough of that! Vegas, however...we're going this weekend and I'm REALLY excited :)

  2. Have fun...I hope you win :). Yeah you have to show your passport or resident card to get in. So I didn't have to pay. I'm not sure how they police the residents who are banned.