MACAU (AFP) – Singapore is set to overtake Las Vegas as the world’s second-largest gambling hub this year, a US gaming industry head said Tuesday, as Asia cements its place as a major betting market.
Singapore has emerged as Asia’s hottest new gambling destination with a revamped cityscape and billions of dollars pouring into the economy, after the opening of two resort casinos in 2010.
The strong growth came after Macau — the world’s biggest gaming hub — leapfrogged Las Vegas in gaming revenue and continues to post record-breaking growth, thanks to burgeoning numbers of wealthy Asians.
The two resort casinos in Singapore posted $5.1 billion in gaming revenues in 2010, a figure forecast to rise to $6.4 billion this year, according to Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.
A report citing research by the Royal Bank of Scotland has suggested Las Vegas will take $6.2 billion this year.
“Now more than a year old, the two integrated resorts in Singapore have exceeded all expectations and turned the nation into Asia’s second global gaming superpower,” said Fahrenkopf.
“The country’s gaming market will likely overtake Las Vegas as the world’s second-largest gaming centre as early as this year,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of the Global Gaming Expo Asia, which opened Tuesday in Macau.
The first Singapore casino opened in Malaysian-controlled Resorts World Sentosa on February 14, 2010, with US-based Las Vegas Sands following two months later as the world economy was still clawing itself out of recession.
The two casinos have largely been credited with turning around Singapore’s tourism sector, helping the country welcome a record 11.6 million visitors last year.
Asia’s strong growth in the gaming industry stands in sharp contrast to US venues such as the Las Vegas Strip, previously a byword for gambling but which is now suffering the effects of the global downturn.
The Sahara, an iconic Las Vegas hotel that once hosted names like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, closed its doors last month, even as many Asian casinos are planning expansions.
Fahrenkopf said potentials in other Asian countries besides Macau and Singapore would also help spur growth, with several multi-billion dollar casino development projects due for completion over the next two years.
“Other developments in Asia are helping to clearly establish the region as the hottest gaming market in the world,” he said, noting the sector is expanding at record levels in Cambodia and Laos, while Sri Lanka is set to implement legal gambling next year.
He said the rapid growth in Singapore would not threaten Macau’s position, saying the former Portuguese colony has seen “dramatic growth in almost every measurable category”, after it opened its doors to foreign competition.
But he urged Macau to look into challenges such as labour and infrastructure issues, as well as a cap of 5,500 gaming tables allowed before 2013.
“Clearly this is not enough… It is a problem that the Macau government has to deal with,” he said of the city, which now boasts a gaming market that is almost four times as large as that of Las Vegas.
Macau’s gaming scene was monopolised by tycoon Stanley Ho for decades until it opened to foreign competition in 2002. Since then, a stream of Las Vegas-based gaming companies have flooded into the southern Chinese city.