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Sands opens Singapore's 2nd casino-resort

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[April 27, 2010]  SINGAPORE (AP) -- Singapore's second casino-resort opened Tuesday, a massive $5.7 billion project by Las Vegas Sands Corp. that aims to makeover the city-state as a Southeast Asian gambling and tourism magnet.

After big cost overruns and months of delays, the casino, more than a third of 2,500 hotel rooms and parts of a shopping mall and convention center were opened. A 1.2-hectare (3-acre) SkyPark connecting the tops of three 55-story hotel towers should open on June 23 while a theater opens in October and a museum in December.

The resort, known as the Marina Bay Sands, remakes Singapore's skyline, forming the far side of a marina facing the downtown area and what the government envisions will be a must-see tourist attraction. Officials also hope the casinos will revamp Singapore's image as an efficient but sterile manufacturing and financial center that's better known for strict laws including a ban on chewing gum and caning for minor offenses.

"There's no other casino this big right in the middle of a downtown," said Aaron Fischer, an analyst with CLSA in Hong Kong. "It's not comparable to anything."

The Marina Bay and Genting's Resorts World Sentosa, which opened Singapore's first casino in February, are making the island nation the gambling capital of Southeast Asia.

The two casinos will generate combined income of as much as $3.5 billion next year, or more than half of Las Vegas's $6 billion of annual gambling revenue, Fischer said.

"The appetite to gamble in Asia is huge," he said.

In Macau, a Chinese gambling enclave, the average bet at its casinos is $40 while in Las Vegas it's $5 to $10. VIP guests, which are two-thirds of Macau's $20 billion gambling market, average $10,000 per bet, Fischer said.

"There's enough room in Asia for five to ten Las Vegases," Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson told reporters after the opening. "Chinese culture and Asian culture aren't going to change."

The Singapore government, which forbade casinos for decades, has sought to lessen the damage of problem gambling by charging citizens and permanent residents 100 Singapore dollars ($73) per day or SG$2,000 a year to enter a casino.

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Hundreds of curious Singaporeans and tourists streamed into the hotel's main atrium after the doors opened at 3:18 p.m., eight being considered a good luck number in Chinese culture.

"My wife and her sister wanted to see it so they dragged me along," said Kent Wong, a 45-year-old Singaporean. "The hotel is impressive, but I'm not paying $100 to go to the casino."

Marina Bay, the world's second-most expensive casino-resort behind MGM Mirage's CityCenter in Las Vegas, was initially scheduled to begin operations in December, but the opening was pushed back to February and then to April because of heavy rains and the bankruptcy of some of the project's subcontractors, according to Sands.

The project is $2 billion over budget, and Sands expects to earn back its investment in five years, said Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson.

Once completed, Marina Bay will feature art works worth $50 million, 300 luxury retail stores and a convention center that can accommodate 45,000 delegates.

"This is the future of gaming," Adelson said. "This is a new model of entertainment."

Las Vegas Sands also owns the Sands Macau and the Venetian Macau along with the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and the Venetian and the Palazzo in Las Vegas.

[Associated Press; By ALEX KENNEDY]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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