casiNO, CASINO, caSINo?
A story which the government cannot tell…
3 months ago, the casino issue polarized the nation state.
3 groups emerges: a) The Vocal Anti-casino group (usually on religious grounds), b) The Silence Pro-casino group and c) The “Who cares!” group.
On a side note, Singaporeans are such a strange bred of people. When Malaysia threatened our water supply, Singaporeans couldn’t care less. When then former Indonesia called us a little red dot in the sea of greens, Singaporeans couldn’t care less. When Taiwan called us an island size of mucus, Singaporeans couldn’t care less. When we came hours away from becoming a terrorist target (JI), Singaporeans couldn’t care less. But when the government says that they will consider building a casino, everyone found their voice overnight. Egoist, Apathy, Self-interested and what ever terms you can thing of to describe Singaporeans! It is all plain excuses to say that they don’t know about issues outside Singapore because it doesn’t affect them (so they don’t need to know). But when it comes to gambling, everyone knows, because it “affects” them so personally.
Back to our main issue. Allow me shed some light into this whole saga based on information that I got from a “high ranking official” of the government. This was not the first time that casino approached the government on building the casino on local soil. All these years, it was being refused. But in the recent case, “one of the top three casinos” came to the government with a different proposal. They will allow Singapore to be the Asian hub for the lucrative convention business, if and only if, they allow them to build the casino. You might wonder what is so attractive about the convention business and can’t we do it ourselves without their help and the casino. Nope, we can’t. Here are the reasons:
a) Ever wondered why all of the world’s largest conventions are held in Las Vegas? Not just because they have the facilities, but the industry is controlled. But I’ll just stop short of saying the word “syndicated”. The operators will only grant us the convention business if the government allows them to have a casino to safeguard any losses they might have in the business. Casino always makes money, but for heavy investments in the buildings for conventions such S$1-2 Billion, they need to safeguard any potential losses.
b) Even if we build the world class convention business facilities, no high-flying business will hold their conventions here. Our facilities will just be white elephants. Just look at Singapore Expo, how many overseas MNCs such as Microsoft or ExxonMobil hold their conventions here? Zero! Reason? See the earlier point.
c) Why convention business? The plain simple truth is that our manufacturing industry is bleeding with competitions from India and China. No matter how much subsides, tax exemptions and other price fixing, we can never out-cost them. Our Manufacturing sector represents 30% of our GDP. This sector will definitely shrink and for every percentage point, we are going to have more than proportion amount of unemployment and retrenchments. So we have to spin-off and develop other labour intensive industries. We have tried education industry, biomedical industry, medical, R&D, electronics, and many others. However, Thailand and Malaysia is watching our every move. Thailand recently put more focus on their medical industry. And are out-costing us by 1 to 8. So last throw of the dice, the MICE. MICE is mega Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions. On the side note, this also benefits our tourism industry.
d) Our tourist sights are pathetic. Other then Sentosa, which is not much of a tourist sight anyway, we have got nothing.
e) Whatever industries and success factors can be easily duplicated. Thailand had long plan to carve open the Isthmus of Kra and allow ships to bypass Singapore for a shorter route. China, who is heavily dependent on crude oil to sustain their economy is agreeable and might offer to fund the project. If that happens, Singapore will be a redundant port and jobs will be lost. Penang and Bangkok is set to develop their medical hubs. KL already has their “silicon valley” to compete with Singapore’s electronics and technology centers. By no accident are the Malaysians building their Tanjong Pelepas and Pasir Gudang ports at the left and right of the Malaya Peninsula. Finance hub? Not known to many but Mumbai and Hong Kong has displaced Singapore and the Asian Financial Headquarters.
Okay, with all this factors, it may help to the PAP government to make a strong case for casino. But why didn’t they announce these factors earlier for public consultation? Their hands are bounded and can’t announce these in public if they do not agree to the concept proposals. Here are the main reasons:
a) Announcing it prior to accepting concept proposals will cause our neighbouring countries to fight for the same pie. Although they will not win (due to Singapore’s infrastructures and transportation hub status) but the advantage will be in the casino owner’s hands to under price and bargain with the government.
b) The only reason why casino didn’t wish to approach Johor or Indonesia is because of their Islamic inclination. Gambling is not allowed by the Muslims and setting a casino there will only provoke violent oppositions. But Pahang has allow Genting to set up the casino and the Menteri Besar of Johor, Abdul Ghani (who is never pro-Singapore in anyway stretch of our imagination), is keen to allow that just to compete with Singapore.
c) If we lost this business to our neighbours, we will not become the landing destination for South-East Asia but part of the regional tour of other countries. Our tourist-days-in-Singapore will drop from 3 days to 1 day. Needless to say, jobs of our service and hotel industry will be affected.
In more ways than one, Singapore’s future is at stake. But the government cannot tell everyone that. If the government wishes to be a populist government, they can just say No to the casino operators, call for elections and they will win more than 75% of the votes. This is because they will have the unpopular vote on their side and the oppositions’ stand is already taken by the government, thus have no basis of ideological stand.
Morally, I am against the casino but the case is no longer that simple. But I can I still say NO if my word will lead to 40% probability of having 10,000 families losing their jobs?
Gambling is morally wrong, so we SHOULD NOT have casino. (Granted)
Losing jobs and seeing more poverty in Singapore is wrong, so we SHOULD HAVE casino. (Granted)
Many people (more than usual) are against the casino, so we SHOULD NOT have casino. (Granted)
Government should listen to their voters of whom, the most vocal and opinionated are those that say no, so we SHOULD NOT have casino. (Granted)
Our future economy might be at stake since we cannot find a good alternative industry to create jobs, so we SHOULD HAVE casino. (Granted)
As you can see, three NOs and two YES don’t make the decision any simpler. But bear in mind, the casino is only 3-5% floor space of the entire resort. It goes beyond what we can’t see and feel. There is no absolute certainty on how much having or not having the casino will affect us. Our government and Singapore have a good history on making bets (no punts intended) on the future. We have succeeded in a short 30 years to transform Singapore from Third World to First, where others have failed. Do Singaporeans have the foresight to look beyond the horizon? I truly hope so. Our fate is in our hand and in what we do now.
Have the government listened to our views? I truly think so. But the people must know that democracy doesn’t mean always winning an argument. It doesn’t mean that if you give your views and you think it is not heard, you stop trying. Democracy is a tool to make our living better. Freedom of speech is good but people do not always make rational decision because in today’s world, there are no rational decisions.