Singapores First Casino-resort Opens - Thursday 21st of January 2010

Singapores first casino-resort partially opened Wednesday, a key part of a government plan to reduce reliance on manufacturing and brand the tightly controlled city-state as a cosmopolitan Asian capital.

Resorts World Sentosa, built by Malaysias Genting Bhd for 6.6 billion Singapore dollars (US$ 5 billion), opened 1,340 rooms in four hotels, including a Hard Rock hotel and a property designed by architect Michael Graves. Its 7,300-seat ballroom, one of Asias largest, will host its first event at the end of this month.

A Universal Studios theme park is expected to open in the coming weeks on the sprawling 49-hectare complex on Sentosa, an island a quarter of a mile off Singapores coast. No firm date has been set, said Genting chairman Lim Kok Thay, contradicting reports it would open next week.

The resorts casino, the city-states first, is expected to open in March after Gentings application for a license was delayed to December from October when gambling authorities asked for more information. Officials have said it will probably take three months to process the license.

Singapore — known for its ban on chewing gum sales and canings for crimes some countries would rule as minor — strictly controls public speech and assembly though has become socially more liberal and allowed greater artistic freedom in recent years. The decision to allow casinos followed a rare national debate though the governments desired outcome was never in doubt.

The government expects Resorts World — along with the expected May opening of the Marina Bay Sands casino resort — to increase the countrys gross domestic product growth by up to 1 percentage point, boost tourist arrivals and add 35,000 jobs.

With a well-educated population that speaks English, Chinese and Malay, Singapore is increasingly focusing on finance and tourism, said Irvin Seah, an economist with DBS Bank in Singapore.

"Services are really a green pasture going forward for Singapore," Seah said. "Its the area which we really want to fully exploit and its where we have a comparative advantage in the region."

Manufacturing, which has long dominated the economy, has been slowly leaving the country as companies seek cheaper labor costs in regional neighbors such as China and Vietnam.

Meanwhile Singapores exports jumped in December for the second straight month as global demand for the city-states electronics surged.

Exports excluding oil rose 26.1 percent from a year earlier to 13.2 billion Singapore dollars ($9.5 billion), according to Trade and Industry Ministry figures released Monday. The ministry said sales abroad rose a seasonally adjusted 1.7 percent from November.

Electronics — which account for 40 percent of non-oil exports — rebounded strongly, rising 25.2 percent from a year earlier after falling 6.1 percent in November.

Pharmaceuticals rose 76 percent while petrochemicals increased 64 percent, the ministry said.

Singapores economic recovery slowed last quarter as gross domestic product fell by an annualized seasonally adjusted 6.8 percent. The government expects the economy to grow up to 5 percent this year after contracting by 2.1 percent last year.

Non-oil exports rose 27 percent to Europe and 20 percent to China from last year, the ministry said. US demand for non-oil products grew by 6 percent after falling nearly 13 percent in November.

Oil exports, which account for 32 percent of total exports, increased 60 percent in December from a year earlier.

Non-oil imports rose 9.9 percent in December, after dropping 3.3 percent in November, the ministry said.

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