The iconic Marina Bay Sands will get a fourth tower. There will also be a new concert arena. Over at Resorts World, there’ll be two new hotels, a bigger Universal Studios, and an oceanarium. Singapore’s way of getting casino resorts to improve the city’s tourism appeal is smart and fair — never mind that it’s a bit of coercion. The resorts wouldn’t invest more if they weren't benefiting.
Genting Singapore and Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s pledges to put $6.7 billion (S$9 billion) into tourist attractions in Singapore to keep their exclusive casino operating licenses was met with little enthusiasm by analysts and investors.
At least six analysts downgraded Genting in the wake of the news, citing the hefty price tag for the license extension and the government’s plan to raise gambling taxes after 2022. Shares of the Singapore-based developer fell by as much as 7.5 percent, the most since August, in early Thursday trading.
The total investments, almost two-thirds of the operators’ initial spend in 2006 of about S$15 billion to build the integrated resorts, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, come in the wake of a tourism spike caused by the Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians, which was set in the city-state. Last year’s high-profile summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also drew attention. Still, the casino operators were seen to have paid an overly high price to keep their licenses, as any meaningful earnings boost from the expansions would be far off.
Not all the reviews were negative. Sanford C. Bernstein’s Vitaly Umansky said the casino operators’ expansion blueprints should be viewed as a long-term positive, outweighing a planned tax increase on gross gaming revenue in the city state. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Margaret Huang said expansion plans will spur growth in the mass-market segment, helping to raise the city’s edge with tourists compared with other destinations.
There’s certainly demand for more tourism capacity. Even with Singapore attracting record tourist numbers, its pace of hotel expansion has slowed. Last year, visitor arrivals in the city-state last year jumped 6.2 percent to 18.5 million, data from the Singapore Tourism Board show. Receipts increased 1 percent to S$27.1 billion.
But an average of only 764 extra rooms a year will be completed from 2018 to 2022, down from 3,357 annually between 2014 and 2017, according to Cushman & Wakefield.
The operators will also have to deal with increased tax rates on gross gaming revenue at the end of the current moratorium in February 2022, as well as greater hurdles for Singaporean residents themselves to visit the casinos. The city-state plans to boost casino entry prices for Singapore citizens and permanent residents to S$150 a visit from S$100.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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Photo Credit: An old and new icon of Singapore, the Merlion and Marina Bay Sands. Raini Hamdi / Raini Hamdi, Skift.