Sun in run for Singapore casino - Saturday 12th of March 2005

South Africa's Sun International has been reported on in the local press as one of the 19 bids received for Singapore's proposed casino project.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday rejected a suggestion in parliament to hold a referendum on the controversial issue.

Lee said the government would make a decision in four to six weeks after studying the benefits and disadvantages of a casino, which has sparked a rare public debate in the island-republic known for its citizens' conformity to state initiatives.

"We have received a total of 19 proposals, and will make a decision in 4-6 weeks after studying them," Lee told a parliamentary debate.

He did not give a list of the bidders, but among those who have confirmed their interest were Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, US gaming giant Harrah's Entertainment and Tabcorp of Australia.

Neighbouring Malaysia's Genting Group also announced on Monday that its subsidiaries, Genting International and Star Cruises, had submitted a joint proposal.

Genting is Malaysia's sole gaming company with a market capitalisation of US$9bn.

Local media reports have also mentioned MGM-Mirage and Sands of Las Vegas, South Africa's Sun International, firms owned or co-owned by Macau's casino king Stanley Ho and Australian mogul Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcast Ltd as among the possible bidders.

Analysts have said the casino project could contribute up to $1.5bn in revenues annually to the local economy, while the government has argued it would boost tourism.

Singapore boasts Asia's third most affluent society after Japan and Hong Kong, and hosts more than eight million tourists a year. Horse racing and state-run lotteries are highly popular on the island.

Lee praised the involvement of many Singaporeans in the debate, but rejected one suggestion in parliament to hold a referendum on the issue, saying it was a policy matter to be decided by the cabinet.

"The government cannot govern by referendum. The casino is not an issue of national survival or sovereignty that deserves to be settled by a referendum," Lee said.

"Nor is it an issue of conscience or fundamental principle like abortion or organ transplantation because we already have many forms of legal gambling in Singapore.

"It is a policy matter - whether to allow an additional outlet for gambling, and weighing the pros and cons to decide whether the economic benefit to Singapore of doing so outweighs the social costs."

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