'No threat to S'pore' - Saturday 12th of March 2005

AS Singapore mulls over a casino resort, Bintan is also deciding whether to roll the dice on legalised gambling. The illegal casinos in Batam remain closed on central government orders, but its neighbour Bintan could play host to a legal casino. Local legislators are seeking to change the law and legalise gambling on this Indonesian resort island - but Jakarta will first have to show its hand, reported The Business Times. Talks have begun on developing a casino on Bintan, but the proposal has run into legal hurdles, said Mr Jaka Singgih, a legislator who represents Batam in the national parliament. Mr Singgih told BT that Indonesia's constitution prohibits a number of activities, although gambling is not specified as illegal in the constitution. Nevertheless, several regulations effectively outlaw gambling. ''The law specifically says it is illegal to set up a casino or any form of gambling outlet in Indonesia, but there are suggestions to legalise gambling and localise it in a certain area or part of the country,'' Mr Singgih said. Anti-gambling laws put in place in April 1981 under former president Suharto led to the closure of three casinos in Jakarta. With the decision on a casino in Singapore due to be made on 18 Apr, the question on most people's lips would be on how a Bintan rival would impact on ours. Three economists whom The New Paper spoke to this morning felt there was unlikely to be much impact. And, if anything, it could even be positive. Mr P K Basu, an economist with Robust Economic Analysis, said the Bintan plan highlighted the fact that the idea of a casino is a fairly attractive one for governments in the region. ''Of course, there will be competition, there already is implicit competition in Genting, so this merely adds to it,'' he said. ''But it doesn't pose too much of a threat because Bintan will never be a full substitute for Singapore because it's so much easier to get to here from anywhere in the world.'' ATTRACTIONS UOB economist Ho Woei Chen said it was too premature to talk about the impact, given that neither Singapore nor Bintan has decided to build any casinos. ''In the event that they do, it sounds as if both have a similar resort-style concept. But they won't be in direct competition because they both offer different attractions,'' she said. ''Singapore you associate with security and shopping, and Bintan, more water sports, so I think both will appeal to very different crowds.'' ''In any case, most will still have to pass through Singapore to get to Bintan. This will represent tourist dollars to us. So either way, Singapore gains.'' Mr Nizam Idris, regional economist with financial consultancy IDEAglobal.com, said: ''I really don't think it will impact on our casinos, if there are any, because I think Bintan and Singapore will be targetting different people, so there will be little overlap.'' The New Paper had reported last month on the possibility of a casino in Bintan. Mr Endhi Maulidi, the head of Kepri (the Indonesian name for the administrative area that includes Batam and Bintan) commission for law and governance, said the council was looking to set up an ''exclusive integrated tourist site'' that would include a casino in Lagoi District. Most major hotels and resorts in Bintan are in the Lagoi district. Confirming the interest from gaming companies yesterday was the receiver of Bintan Lagoon Resort. ''We have received enquiries from a variety of interested parties,'' Mr Ong Yew Huat of Ernst & Young, Bintan Lagoon Resort's receiver and manager, told BT. Mr Ong declined to give details of the interested parties, except to say they come from both the region and even beyond. ''The regional parties are taken as a given, because there has always been certain parties, regional players, who have been interested,'' Mr Ong said. He said that besides expressing their interest, some of these parties have also started to take a closer look at investing in Bintan Lagoon Resort. There are about 110 hectares left to be developed at the resort, he said. The resort sits on a 306-hectare site with a 30-year lease from 1992, plus options to extend the lease for two terms of 20 and 30 years. BT understands that the entire 80-year lease term has been fully paid.

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