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Final bids set for Singapore casino race

Written by: Staff
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SINGAPORE, Mar 28: MGM Mirage and its partner CapitaLand are emerging as favourites to build Singapore's first casino in the final leg of a race that has offered the city-state a whiff of Las Vegas know-how and Hollywood glamour.

Final bids for the 3 billion dollar project, one of the most expensive casinos in the world, must be in by tomorrow. A panel of five government ministers will then weigh up the gaming, architectural and cultural merits, plus the overall ''wow'' factor of each bid, and announce a winner by mid-year.

Singapore wants a stunning emblem for the city-state on a par with the Sydney Opera House. The downtown, waterfront casino will be the first of two such ventures intended to lure Asian gamblers and boost Singapore's tourism revenues.

''Our best educated guess is that the MGM and CapitaLand consortium has a slight lead over the Harrah's and Keppel Land team,'' DBS Vickers analyst James Tan said.

MGM, Harrah's Entertainment Inc and Las Vegas Sands Corp are seen as the frontrunners for the complex that will combine gambling facilities with convention halls, glitzy theatres, luxury hotels and a shopping mall within 20.6 hectares.

MGM and Harrah's have allied with Singapore government-linked property firms, which some analysts reckon puts them at an advantage in the contest, while Sands is submitting a solo bid.

A fourth group consists of Genting International and cruise ship operator Star Cruises Ltd, both affiliates of Malaysia's Genting Bhd.

The Genting consortium is considered a more likely winner for the second casino project on the resort island of Sentosa, where it has joined forces with theme park giant Universal Studios.

STRING OF WITHDRAWALS

International casino operators are eager to invest billions of dollars in Asia, where casino revenues are expected to reach US 13 billion dollar this year, driven by the tiny Chinese city of Macau, according to consultancy Globalysis.

Analysts say Singapore, with its squeaky clean image, may have nudged the region towards further liberalisation of the gaming industry with its decision last year to legalise casino gambling. Thai and Japanese officials have sounded out the possibility of legalising casinos in their countries too.

''The (Singapore) government is conscious that the region will be very different by the time the casinos begin operating in 2009,'' Merrill Lynch analyst Sean Monaghan said. Since Singapore lifted a ban on casinos and invited bids for its projects, several prospective candidates have fallen by the wayside, citing high costs and bureaucracy.

Las Vegas casino impresario Steve Wynn, who slammed Singapore bureaucrats for micro-managing areas such as design, withdrew his Wynn Resorts Ltd from the race in December.

An alliance between Macau's casino king Stanley Ho and Publishing&Broadcasting, controlled by Australia's Packer family, pulled out in January, citing high capital costs, including an upfront land cost of 1.2 billion dollar.

HOLLYWOOD, BOLLYWOOD

Those still in the bidding have unveiled partnerships to boost their chances of securing the 30-year casino concession.

MGM Mirage, which runs luxurious Las Vegas resorts such as the Bellagio, has announced a tie-up with Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil to set up a permanent show in Singapore, and has tapped the Media Asia group, which includes Media Asia Entertainment Group, to stage acts from China and Hong Kong.

Harrah's and Keppel Land have enlisted James Cameron, the Hollywood director behind blockbusters such as ''Titanic'' and the Terminator movies, to produce a 16-storey interactive theme park.

Harrah's-KepLand is also bringing in Paris' Centre Pompidou to run an art museum, and has tied up with shopping mall builder Taubman Centers Inc and US concert promoter AEG.

Meanwhile Sands, the world's largest casino operator by market value, said it would include a luxury hotel and a 1.2 million square feet convention centre in its plan.

Sands has also roped in Broadway producer Clear Channel Entertainment, part of Clear Channel Communications, and said it wants to bring Bollywood acts to the city-state.

The four groups, down from the 12 invited to bid last year, will submit detailed plans and scale models by 1330 IST tomorrow before presenting their proposals to government officials next month.

REUTERS

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