Singaporean casinos won’t dominate the economy of the country

Singapore’s two casinos, which will be completed by 2010, won’t dominate the city-state’s diversified economy and will help the island shed its “museum“ image, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

„The casinos are not going to be Singapore,“ Lee, who was attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Syndey, said in an interview on September 7. ”This is not going to be like Macau, where the casinos are the economy.“

Macau last year overtook the Las Vegas Strip in revenue, making it the world’s busiest gaming hub. Singapore lifted a four-decade ban on casinos two years ago after its share of Asia Pacific’s tourism market fell.

It is also the prospective host to Formula One’s first night Grand Prix and new attractions will include a Universal Studios theme park and the world’s largest Ferris wheel, all aimed at tapping an increase in global travel. “We are not a museum, we are a living city, we have to evolve,“ Lee said. “This is not 1950s Singapore, this is Singapore in the 21st century. Our policies have to change.“

The government expects to double the number of overseas visitors to 17 million annually and triple tourism receipts to USD 20 billion by 2015.

Singapore, which will impose a USD 65.5 daily levy on the city-state’s citizens and permanent residents entering its gaming centers, is studying rules and procedures in countries where casinos are permitted to curb problem-gambling, money- laundering and other vices, Lee said. The gaming centers will be run by Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Genting Bhd.

The nation’s USD 134 billion economy is forecast to grow as much as 8 percent this year, from 7.9 percent in 2006. Lee last month forecast annual growth for the next five to 10 years of between 4 percent and 6 percent. “In the short term, we hope to be at the higher end of that range, maybe even do better if we are lucky,“ Lee said. “If Asia is prospering and we make ourselves competitive, then we can grow in Asia.“

China and India, the world’s two-fastest growing major economies, are spurring growth around the region, Lee said. “This is an entire continent on the rise,“ he said.

Singapore, which counts the U.S. as its single biggest export market, has seen electronics exports slump nine times in the ten months ended July. Still, the economy grew at the fastest pace in two years in the second quarter fueled by construction and financial services.

The region’s developing nations are almost twice as reliant on exports as the rest of the world, with 60 percent of their sales abroad ultimately destined for the U.S., Europe and Japan. While Singapore’s expansion is not as dependent on U.S. growth, the island still isn’t “decoupled“ from the world’s largest economy, Lee said.

“We are a little less dependent,“ he said. „If the U.S. economy goes down, it will still affect us, but we are somewhat buffered.“